An overzealous headline writer and a reporter who apparently read a different document joined to misrepresent the findings of a General Accounting Office report on the food-additive approval process followed for aspartame {"Most Scientists in Poll Doubt NutraSweet's Safety," July 17}.

The two-year investigative report by the GAO was requested by Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, a self-avowed critic of aspartame, to determine whether the FDA had acted properly in the regulatory process that led to aspartame's approval. The GAO also investigated how the FDA is currently addressing any safety questions.

The report seems blatantly clear: "Throughout aspartame's approval history, GAO found that FDA addressed safety issues raised internally and by outside scientists and concerned citizens.

"GAO believes that FDA's and other scientists' planned and ongoing research, and FDA's monitoring of adverse reactions, should provide FDA with a basis for determining what future actions, if any, are needed on aspartame."

In announcing the report, a press release issued by Sen. Metzenbaum's office selected one portion of the 100-page document to trumpet -- a survey questionnaire sent by GAO to 96 researchers. Of 69 who responded, more than one-third had done no research on aspartame. Even so, the results are interesting.

Twelve persons indicated they had little confidence in aspartame's safety; 29 said they were very confident of its safety. But consider that another 26 agreed with the following statement: "I am somewhat concerned about the safety of aspartame; I am generally confident in the safety of aspartame."

Doesn't this mean that 55 out of 67 researchers, more than 80 percent, are at least "generally confident" in the safety of aspartame? Does this match The Post's headline?

The GAO also specifically stated that its questionnaire results, while providing useful information on ongoing research, "may not be totally representative of scientific opinion."

Aspartame has been determined safe by the FDA, which has properly reviewed the scientific evidence at every stage according to the GAO (so let's put those allegations to rest). It has also been determined safe by 60 countries, the European Economic Community's Scientific Committee for Food and the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives of the U.N. and the World Health Organization.

Finally, it has been reviewed and recognized as safe for the general population by leading independent medical authorities, including the American Medical Association's Committee on Scientific Affairs, the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Nutrition, the American Diabetes Association and others.

Perhaps a survey of these leading health and medical authorities around the world would have led The Post to write a different story. But then again, perhaps not. THOMAS E. STENZEL Executive Director, International Food Information Council Alexandria