Artificial Sweetener Not Properly Tested Says Watchdog Group

by on Mar.25, 2011, under Weight Loss

The consumer advocacy organization Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is again raising objections to the calorie-free, artificial sweetener Sunett. CSPI charges that testing of the substance was shoddy and not sufficient to guarantee that Sunett does not cause cancer.

Also known as acesulfame potassium or acesulfame-K, Sunett is currently used in over 80 countries and has been an ingredient in food products in the U.S. for eight years. CSPI opposed the U.S. introduction of Sunett in 1987, but is redoubling its efforts now because of a proposal being considered at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to use the sweetener in diet soda. In the United States, Sunett is currently found in products like chewing gum, pudding and gelatin mixes, instant coffees, and chocolate syrup.

Michael Jacobson, executive director of CSPI, explains that his organization is even more concerned because, “millions more Americans would be exposed to large amount of the additive.” He added that the carcinogen testing done in the 1970s by Hoechst Celanese, the manufacturer of Sunett, was of poor quality and certainly insufficient to meet current standards.

To bolster these claims, CSPI asked ten cancer experts to submit opinions on the research. All agreed that better studies should be done. Dr. Umberto Saffiotti, chief of the laboratory of experimental pathology at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, Maryland, said “I believe that now–twenty years later–such poor quality tests should not be considered as acceptable evidence for an important public health evaluation.”

Among the cancer experts who agreed are Dr. David Rall, retired assistant surgeon general at the U.S. Public Health Service; University of Maryland epidemiology and toxicology professor Ellen Silbergeld; and Marvin Schneiderman, who served as associate director for field studies and statistics at the National Cancer Institute. The ten respondents mentioned a variety of weaknesses in the studies that include lost tissue samples, poor animal care that could lead to inaccurate results, and unexplained gaps in studies that determined how much to feed the animals.

Hoechst Celanese director of regulatory and scientific affairs Jon Simplicio accused the CSPI of spreading misinformation about Sunett. He added that the FDA has continued to expand the acceptable uses for Sunett and has given careful reviews of all data at least seven times.

CSPI senior scientist corrected Simplicio, saying “What we’re really talking about here today is the quality of testing of acesulfame.”

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