The Food and Drug Administration did not have to hold public hearings on complaints that the artificial sweetener aspartame causes health problems, a federal appeals court ruled yesterday.
A three-member panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals here said the FDA did not violate the law when it twice denied petitions by consumer groups for public hearings before approving in July 1984 the use of aspartame in soft drinks and carbonated-beverage syrups.
"Our review of the agency's action is limited to an evaluation of whether it has given consideration to all relevant evidence on the record," the panel said in a unanimous 22-page decision written by Judge Abner J. Mikva.
"We conclude that the FDA properly denied a hearing after finding the petitioners have raised no material issue regarding the safety of the wet use of aspartame."
The Community Nutrition Institute and other consumer organizations asked the appeals court to order the FDA to hold public hearings on complaints that the sugar substitute causes health problems and should be banned until tested further.
In Skokie, Ill., G.D. Searle & Co., which manufactures aspartame under the brand names NutraSweet and Equal, said it was pleased by the ruling.
"This lawsuit was part of a series of challenges brought by many of the same individuals over the past decade," a company statement said. "Their allegations have been repeatedly considered by courts, regulatory authorities and expert panels around the world, all of whom have concluded that these charges are without scientific or legal merit."