The Senate Human Resources Committee voted 11 to 3 yesterday to allow sale of saacharin and saccharin-sweetened products for 18 more months, but with a requirement for cancer warnings on the label and in advertising.
The bill was approved over the strong protests of Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D-Wis.), who called it a "major assault on a good law" and a "disastrous precedent" that would encourage "dozens and dozesn" of producers of other products that might be cancer-inducing to seek an escape hole through special legislation.
The Food and Drug Administration has proposed banning saccharin from food and drinks, phasing it out of other products, and permitting its sale as a nonprescription drug over the counter with warning labels.
A House subcommittee has approved a similar 18-month delay in the FDA decision, but it doesn't require cancer warnings in labeling and ads. The House version allows the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare to impose such requirements, but he could choose not to.
The Senate bill was sponsored by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).
About 70 per cent of all saccharin is used to sweeten dietary soft drinks, and substantial amounts also go into diet foods or are sold in pill form as a sugar substitute. The FDA proposed to ban it after Canadian tests showed that it caused cancer in animals. Later tests showed it may increase the risk of bladder cancer in men by 60 per cent. Public uproar about loss of the only available diet sweetener led to pressure for postponement of the ban, pending new studies.
Under the bill approved yesterday, soft drinks and other foods bearing saccharin would have to carry on the label: "Warning: this product contains saccharin which causes cancer in animals. Use of this product may increase your risk of developing cancer." Similar labels would have to be placed on soft drink vending machines. Retail stores would have to make pamphlets available at counters where saccharine-containing products are sold, detailing information on cancer dangers.
Newspaper, billboard, magazine and radio and television advertising of products bearing saccharin would have to carry on the label: "Warning: this product contains saccharin which causes cancer in animals. Use of this product may increase your risk of developing cancer." Similar lables would have to be placed on soft drink vending machines. Retail stores would have to make pamphlets available at counters where saccharine-containing products are sold, detailing information on cancer dangers.
Newsapaper, billboard, magazine and radio and television advertising of products bearing saccharin would also have to include cancer warnings, the details to be formulated by the HEW Secretary. The Senate Commerce Committee has two weeks to review the radio-TV advertising portion of the bill.
The 18-month delay on the FDA ban would begin as soon as the bill is signed into law. The labeling requirements would apply to any product containing saccharine offered for sale 90 days from enactment or later. If the product had been produced and canned earlier, but was being sold after the 90-day period had elapsed, the seller would have to add stick-on or stamped-on warning labels.
A key element of the bill is a pair of studies required to be completed in one year. One study would review the whole network of food activities rules and laws, in order to determine which ones are useful and valid for deciding when a product should be banned because it is toxtic or carcinogenic.
This would include a review of the controversial Delaney clause, which requires banning a food additive if it is known to cause cancer in animals. The second study would try to determine whether the impurities in saccharin are what can cause cancer, rather than the saccharin itself, and whether saccharin has any health benefits.
According to the committee, saccharin is produced by Sherwin-Williams, whose estimated sales of it are $9 million a year. Committee sources said sales of products containing saccharin total $2 billion a year.