The House voted yesterday to tie the hands of the Food and Drug Administration and prevent it from banning saccharin for the next 15 months.
The vote, the first action Congress has taken on the controversial sweetener ban since it was proposed in March, came on rider to a $13.7 billion agriculture appropriations bill. The Senate version is still being marked up in the Appropriations Committee, and it was not clear yesterday what action the committee or the Senate might take on the ban.
Saccharin is widely used as a sugar substitute in soft drinks and other foods popular with dieters and diabetics.
Under the amendment offered by the chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on agriculture, Jamie Whitten (D-Miss.), the FDA which is funded under the bill, could use none of its funds to promulgate or enforce any ban on the continued use of saccharin as a food additive from the time the bill is signed in law until Sept. 30, 1978.
Whitten acknowledged under questioning that the FDA could rush the proposed ban into effect between now and the bill's signing into law, but he said it couldn't enforce the ban after the bill became law.
Rep. Mark Andrew's (R.N.D.), a member of Whitten's subcommittee, said, "The FDA damn well better not monkey around with it" between now and then or it would suffer the wrath of Congress.
Rep. Paul Rogers (D-Fla.), chairman of a Commerce subcommittee on health, who has introduced a bill to delay the saccharin ban for 18 months, pleaded with the House not to act.
He said Whitten's amendment would go too far and prevent the FDA from abanning saccharin even if it found that it was cancerous or that a batch was poisonous.
Rogers also said the move would prevent consideration of a new Canadian study, announced on Monday, which concludes that humans using the artificial sweetener face an increased risk of bladder cancer. Previous Canadian studies, which have been hotly contested, showed only that heavy use of saccharin caused cancer in rats.
Rep. Harold Volkner (D-10.), whose amendment offering a sacchar- rin ban without a time limit was modified by Whitten's, said that to ingest the amount of saccharin fed the Canadian rats, a human would have to drink 800 12-ounce diet sodas daily over a lifetime.
Witten's delaying amendment carried 45 to 35 under a procedure which counts only those members on the floor at the time of the vote.
Rogers refused to press for a vote putting every member of the House on record because, he said, that would make it more difficult to eliminate the amendment in conference with the Senate.
Rogers said it was an "emotional issue" and he did not think the impact of the new study showing saccharin increasing the risk of bladder cancer in humans had had time to sink in.
Rogers pleaded for time to conduct hearings he said were scheduled for next month. He said he wanted to take testimony from scientists about their conflicting conclusions as to whether saccharin causes cancer.
But Whitten, noting that the FDA intended to impose a ban by fall, refused to wait. "If you were holding hearings now, this amendment would not have been offered," he told Rogers.
The FDA has proposed to ban saccharin from all food, beverages, ingested cosmetics and drugs. It could be sold only in powder, tablet or liquid form and only if it carried a cancer warning on the label and if manufacturers could show it was medically useful.
Because of an earlier law passed by Congress, the FDA says it has no choice except to ban the substance. The Delaney amendment to the Food and Drug Act of 1958 declares that "no additive shall be deemed to be safe if it is found to induce cancer when ingested by man or animal." Some feel the FDA welcomed the outcry over the saccharin bas as a means of testing the very broad Delaney language.
In other action on the bill, the House voted 262 to 154 against cutting $673.8 million from the $5.6 million appropriated for food stamps.
Rep. John Rousselot (R-Calif.), who offered the amendment, said there was some $6.2 billion "in the pipeline" which allowed enough flexibility to meet any emergency. He said Appropriations Committee hearings had shown 7 per cent of all the stamp recipients - over 1 million people - were ineligible.