If saccharin is safe, why does it require a warning label?Saccharin has always been surrounded by controversy. As early as 1907, the public was concerned over its safety and proposed banning it. Theodore Roosevelt, a diabetic, fought the idea.
He said, “My doctor gives it to me every dayAnybody who says saccharin is injurious to health is an idiot”(Corcoran 12). Saccharin survived the onslaught for another forty years. It wasn’t until the bittersweet chemical hit the mainstream consumer market in such things as diet sodas, pharmaceuticals, and chewing gum that it came under fire again. Scientists suggested that saccharin might be a carcinogen in 1951. Saccharin is the ancestor of all artificial sweeteners. It was discovered by accident in 1879 by I.
Remsen and C. Fahlberg at John Hopkins University. Fahlberg noticed a sweet taste on his hands after working with some chemicals in the lab.
Through taste tests back at his laboratory he found the source of the sweetness was saccharin. A process for synthesizing saccharin was soon created, and commercial production of saccharin began in 1900 (Beck). Saccharin is an accepted replacement for cane sugar, and is now the most widely used sweetener in the world. This fact is alarming because although the mild carcinogenic has been deemed safe for human consumption, several studies have linked the chemical to bladder cancer. If the chemical were truly safe, it would not require a warning label on products that contain it. Despite the fact that the United States government has deemed saccharin safe, in actuality, it should be banned until its effects on the human body are completely understood.
Saccharin is an organic petroleum-based compound that is three to five hundred times sweeter than sucrose. It is non-nutritive because the human body is unable to metabolize the foreign chemical. Saccharin does not contribute calories; for this reason it is commonly used in diet foods. “The obese feel that saccharin is their lifeline to slimdom, and diabetics claim it is essential to control their blood sugar” (Brody 482).
The same people who consume saccharin certainly would not knowingly eat something that is classified as toxic waste; however, they do it on a daily basis. Saccharin’s alias is EPA Hazardous Waste number U202. In fact, workers who handle saccharin are cautioned, “EXERCISE DUE CARE. AVOID CONTACT WITH EYES, SKIN, CLOTHING. WASH THOROUGHLY AFTER HANDLING. IF SWALLOWED, IF CONCIOUS, IMMEDIATELY INDUCE VOMITING” (MSDS). In 1958, however, saccharin was added to the GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) list, another paradox.
In 1972, the results of a long-term study showed that rats fed saccharin had developed bladder tumors. Subsequently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) removed saccharin from GRAS status and issued a regulation limiting the use of saccharin in foods. Then in 1974, a National Academy of Science review found that, “Saccharin itself could not be identified as the cause of the tumors because of possible impurities as well as problems with experimental design and procedures” (Kennedy 131). Therefore, the FDA decided not to ban saccharin until they received the results of a study being conducted in Canada. In March 1977, the Canadian study showed that feeding large doses of saccharin to pregnant rats and their weanlings produced bladder cancers in the male offspring. The Canadians immediately banned saccharin. When the FDA announced its intentions to follow suit, public outcry led to a Congressionally voted eighteen-month moratorium.
The American people wanted more time to evaluate the results of the study. Shortly thereafter, Congress enacted the Saccharin Study and Labeling Act, which stayed the FDA’s hand temporarily and ordered a warning label on all saccharin products: “Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals” (Brody 482-483). Nonetheless, the moratorium has continually been extended until the present day. During 1978 and 1979, the National Cancer Institute and FDA conducted a population-based study on the possible role of saccharin in causing bladder cancer in humans. In general, people in the study who used an artificial sweetener had no greater risk of bladder cancer than the population as a whole.
However, when only the data for heavy users was examined, there was some suggestive evidence of an increased risk, particularly in persons who consumed both diet drinks and sugar substitutes and who used at least one of these two forms heavily (Carcinogenicity). In the study, heavy use was defined as merely six or more servings of sugar substitute or two or more 8-ounce servings of diet drink daily. Consequently, several studies have found that people with bladder cancer were more likely to have eaten food that contained saccharin than were people who didn’t have bladder cancer. The National Cancer Institute compared the diets of 5,800 similar people who were disease-free to the diets of 3,000 men and women with bladder cancer. Those who reported consuming high levels of saccharin on a daily basis were found to be at a higher risk for association to poorly differentiated bladder tumors (Corcoran 13). Saccharin is the most widely used sugar substitute in the world, and yet we still do not fully understand its effects on the human body. Drinking one can of diet soda per day can increase the risk of bladder cancer by sixty percent (Goulhart).
The fact that it has never been conclusively proven to cause cancer in humans does not make saccharin safe. A dollar’s worth of saccharin will do the sweetening of twenty dollar’s worth of sugar; for this reason, the FDA will not decisively ban the chemical sweetener. They are waiting for the results of the ultimate human test that has been taking place since saccharine was invented in 1879. Saccharin didn’t become widely used until thirty years ago, and bladder cancer takes decades to develop; the near future holds the definitive answer about its safety. Safety aside, saccharine is also a top allergen, causing everything from fatigue to nausea and disorientation. Any food that requires a warning label shouldn’t be safe.
Works citedBeck, Karl M. “Saccharin.” McGraw Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology. 8th ed. 1997. Brody, Jane E. Jane Brody’s Nutrition Book.
New York: WW Norton, 1981: 482. Corcoran, Leila, and Michael Jacobson. “Saccharin: Bittersweet.” Nutrition Action Health Letter April 1998: 11-13.
“Carcinogenicity of Saccharin in Laboratory Animals and Humans.” CSPI Reports. Online. Center for Science in the Public Interest. Available HTTP: http://www.
cspinet.org/reports/sacanada.htm. Goulhart, Frances S. Nutritional Self-Defense. New York: Dodd, 1984.
“MSDS for Saccharin Sodium.”Material Safety Data Sheets”. Online.
University of Utah. Available HTTP: http://www.chem.utah.edu/MSDS/S/SACCHARIN_SODIUM.