Saccharin Saga: EPA Finally Agrees It's Not Hazardous


EPA on saccharin: Never mind

Back in the 1970s, the Food and Drug Administration sought to ban the sale of the artificial sweetener saccharin on the precautionary grounds that some studies had found that it increased the risk of bladder cancer in rodents. It took an act of Congress to prevent this ban. From Nexis, a 1977 Associated Press story sums up what was happening:

President Carter signed legislation Wednesday postponing for 18 months the Food and Drug Administration's proposed ban on the use of saccharin as an artificial sweetener, the White House said.

The legislation also orders the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to study saccharin and other food additives.

The bill, which Carter signed without comment, would require cancer warnings on food products containing saccharin. Under the measure signed by the president, saccharin food products in interstate commerce must bear the following warning.

"Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals."

Saccharin, the only artificial sweetener on the market, has been linked in Canadian studies to bladder cancer in laboratory animals.

The bill was approved earlier this month. The House passed it on a voice vote and the Senate by a vote of 87 to 7.

During the 18-month moratorium on the ban, the government will study the relative health risks and benefits of using saccharin as a sugar substitute.

Under the legislation, the Food and Drug Administration is given authority to require similar cancer warnings on vending machines dispensing soft drinks or other products containing saccharin.

Retail stores selling saccharin products, with the exception of restaurants, would be required to post signs warning customers of the cancer danger of the dietetic sweetener. These stores would also have to make available literature on the saccharin controversy.

Proponents of saccharin, among them diet organizations and the beverage industry, assert that the artificial sweetener is needed by diabetics and others who must restrict the amount of sugar they consume.

The Food and Drug Administration wanted to prohibit use of saccharin as an additive to foods and beverages, but allow its sale as a nonprescription drug.

The cancer warning will be required on products at least 90 days after the Food and Drug Administration issues final rules carrying out the legislation.

Congress got around to passing legislation in 2000 removing the warning label. Some 40 years later, the Environmental Protection Agency is now issuing a new rule removing "saccharin and its salts from the lists of hazardous constituents and commercial chemical products which are hazardous wastes when discarded or intended to be discarded." How's that for speedy government action!

If you're interested, see my column on how various early scientific consensuses have fared. For a general critique of the precautionary principle go here.

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  1. Some 40 years later, the Environmental Protection Agency is now issuing a new rule removing “saccharin and its salts from the lists of hazardous constituents and commercial chemical products which are hazardous wastes when discarded or intended to be discarded.” How’s that for speedy government action!

    And about time, too! I dreamed of the moment I could finally make my coffee taste like cough syrup AND have peace of mind!

  2. Why does Ron Bailey hate Canadian mice?

    1. The little ‘eh?’ at the end of each squeak. Or maybe their pronunciation of mouse as moouse.

  3. I’m gonna start rolling saccharin/tobacco cigarettes.

  4. Ah, the Artificial Sweetener Wars. They remind me of The Clone Wars, in that they were all made up by George Lucas in the 70s.

    I’m telling you, it was all a plot to get Tab off the market.

    1. As if SugarFree wasn’t insufferable enough. Now he has the marque of being federally approved.

      1. That’s why you bitches should be nice to me.

    2. Tab is still on the market last time I checked. On of the liquor stores downtown sells it.

    3. Those wars continue today. It isn’t coincidence that every time a new sweetener hits the market, you get a bunch of studies about how bad the current market leader is. Splenda just had a bunch of bad press when that new “Natural Plant-based” sweetener hit the shelves.

  5. ….but you still visit SugarFree’s links at your own peril.

    Just sayin’….

  6. Get rid of sugar import quotas and the United States wouldn’t have to give hoser rats cancer.

  7. I want some of that magic shit that turns hazardous when intended to be discarded.

    “What are you doing?”
    “Throwing this old Diet Pepsi away.”
    “Why? It looks like it’s still good.”
    “It looks like BLADDER CANCER FOR YOU, MIGHTY MOUSE!” [Hurls bladder cancer.]


    1. It’s not that it turns “hazardous” when intended to be discarded; rather, that’s the point at which an unused product becomes a waste. If it has certain properties, it is regulated as a hazardous waste. If it is an unused product and not intended for disposal, then it’s not yet a waste, and can’t be regulated as a hazardous waste, regardless of how dangerous or deadly it is. But if the decision is made to get rid of it (maybe it’s expired or has become contaminated or whatever), then it’s a waste, and if it meets the regulatory definition of “hazardous waste” at that point, regulated as such.

  8. Fear. It’s the little Canadian rat killer.

  9. Truns out the saccharin wasn’t causing the cancer, rather it was the second hand smoke from the chain smoking Canadian lab techs.

    1. Look, just because ONE guy lit-up within a mile of the research building….

  10. The saccharin debacle wasn’t a product of the Precautionary Principle as the Delaney Clause, which in summary states that no product that can be shown to be carcinogenic can be approved for food. Such is the nonsense that we get from letting politicians play scientist.

    The science on saccharin has been established for some time now that it is a “species specific toxin”, which along with other sodium salts (even sodium ascorbate) causes bladder tumors in mice.

    1. Bananas are radioactive, you know.

    2. Exactly. It wasn’t that FDA wanted to ban it, they felt their hands were tied by statute, which outlawed foods, drugs, and additives shown to cause tumors in any animal. So Congress made an exception to the Delaney Amendment for saccharin.

    3. Ray Pew: Perhaps the FDA didn’t want the authority.

      In any case, the Delaney Clause read: “the Secretary of the Food and Drug Administration shall not approve for use in food any chemical additive found to induce cancer in man, or, after tests, found to induce cancer in animals.”

      One canonical version of the PP reads: “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause-and-effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.”

      I would argue that the Delaney Clause is an instance of the PP.

      1. I would argue that the Delaney Clause is an instance of the PP.

        If memory serves me (and I don’t feel like Google’n it), Delaney had this introduced to the FDA Act because his wife died of cancer.

  11. Sweet!

  12. As an environmental lawywer, I can tell you that the criteria for something being bad for you, or potentially causing cancer when ingested, have no relation whatsoever – none, zero – to the criteria that define whether it is a hazardous waste when discarded.

    It is not at all uncommon for certain chemical constituents to be regulated as “hazardous” under one statute but not under another, because each statute was designed to address different hazards.

    And just because something is regulated as a hazardous waste does not mean it’s “bad for you” or causes cancer or might kill you.

    The reason saccharin was banned was because they thought it might cause cancer when you eat it. Just because something doesn’t cause cancer when you eat it does not mean it doesn’t present other hazards justifying its regulation under other programs.

    In this case, yeah, it does appear that saccharin does not present any of the types of properties that would justify its regulation as a hazardous waste.

    That it took EPA 40 years to reach the conclusion? Meh. Color me unimpressed.

  13. Hazardous waste? I had never even heard of that.

  14. Congress got around to passing legislation in 2000 removing the warning label. Some 40 years later, the Environmental Protection Agency is now issuing a new rule

    I always thought 2000 to 2010 was along decade….i had no idea it was 40 years long though.

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