Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Subcommittee of Health and Scientific Research, yesterday called for creation of a panel of leading scientists to evaluate the Food and Drug Administration's proposed ban on saccharin.
Kennedy asked the Office of Technology Assessment, a research agency for Congress, to recruit specialists to serve on the panel. Kennedy specifically asked that the panel evaluate testing methods and data upon which the FDA based its decision to ban saccharin.
"Clearly," Kennedy said, "we must not allow the controversy over this one FDA ruling to force us into hasty and ill-considered changes in the laws which protect us from environmental hazards."
Kennedy also noted, though, that "there have been tremendous changes in the technology used in testing for the presence of toxic agents in food and other substances" since the passage of the Delaney clause of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act in 1958.
The FDA ruling has caused both considerable controversy about the validity of the ruling and interest in other sugar substitutes.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service has developed a low calorie synthestic sweetner call Neohesperidin dihydrochalcone, Neo DHC for short, from the white pulp on grapefruit peels. The department's scientists found Neo DHC in the early 1960s, when they were trying to discover why grapefruits are bitter. The bitter substance in the peel, naringin, when chemically converted into Neo DHC, turned out to be extremely sweet.
Grapefruit peel is now commonly used as a component of livestock feed. Naringin can be squeezed from the peel without lessening its value as livestock feed.
Two California companies, California Aromatic and Flavors in Sun Valley and Nutrilite Products, Inc., in Buena Park are reportedly ready to manufacture Neo DHC. California Aromatics has petitioned the FDA for permission to market Neo DHC for use in toothpaste, mouthwash and chewing gum. The company expects action from the FDA in three to six months.
According to the Agriculture Department's Research Service, ten years of experimentation in feeding Neo DHC to animals have uncovered no toxicity.
One problem with Neo DHC as a sugar substitute reportedly is its aftertaste, which one person described yesterday as lasting "a couple of hours."
John Attaway, scientific research director for the Florida Department of Citrus, said that naringin is currently used in production of bitter flavors and drinks, primarily in England. He said that Florida processors had found the market unattractive because of its smallness.
Attaway noted, however, that the FDA ban of saccharin and the possibilities offered by the naringin could well change Florida processors' minds since 80 per cent of all grapefruit grown in the United States comes from Florida.
A second sugar substitute currently under study is xylitol, found in abundance in the pulp of trash hardwood trees, according to researchers at the University of Maine.
Xylitol's greatest drawback at the moment is its expense. In Finland, where sugar retails for about 20 cents a pound, xylitol costs approximately $2.85 a pound. Finland produces half of the world's supply of xylitol.
Xylitol not only looks like sugar, tastes like sugar and has fewer calories, but its boosters claim that it also protects teeth from decay.
Hague International in South Portland, Maine, is currently under contract to the Northern Maine Regional Planning Commission to study the economic feasibility of xylitol production. The commission has submitted a preliminary application for a research grant for an undisclosed amount from the Economic Development Agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The University of Maine also is conducting a study of the sugar substitute and has an application for a grant pending before EDA.