After nearly 12 years out in the cold, the makers of cyclamate -- the artificial sweetener that was banned here in 1970 -- are knocking on the door of the Food and Drug Administration again. Abbott Laboratories wants the government's permission to reclaim a portion of the $3 billion diet food market. In 1980, the FDA rejected a seven-year-old petition to end the ban. Now the FDA has decided to listen to some more sweet talk from the Calorie Control Council.

The council, the trade group for the people who make sugar substitutes, diet soda, diet chewing gum, diet jam and diet salad dressing, says it has new data refuting earlier findings that linked cyclamate to an increased incidence of bladder, lung and liver cancer and chromosome damage in experimental animals. They also have new support from a scientific and a statistical organization and -- best of all -- a new administration in Washington. "Decisions under the present administration are being made more on science and less on politics," said Keith Keeney, a spokesman for the council.

FDA officials met with representatives of the diet food industry twice this year, before they made their formal request. According to Abbott executive Richard W. Kasperson, the FDA gave some guidance on how extensively the new petition should respond to the FDA's 1980 opinion (not very extensively) and whether the old scientific data -- running to 54 volumes -- should be resubmitted along with the 13 volumes of new studies (probably unnecessary).

The FDA now has six months to respond, and if it does decide to resurrect the sweetener, it will have to issue a proposed rule for public comment. Cyclamate was the staple of the diet food business in the 1960s. Saccharin, the sweetener that filled the gap, was banned by the FDA in 1977 because studies linked it to cancer in laboratory animals. Congress intervened and saccharin has continued to be added to diet foods.