CSPI Not Sweet on Sweeteners

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The Center for Science in the Public Interest's flagship publication, Nutrition Action Health Letter is a prime fundraising tool for the Food Police. On its face, it looks like a well-written and visually appealing newsletter with health tips and recipes. But to the trained eye, it's not so pretty, at least from a scientific perspective.

Let's break down just a few things from their May 2004 feature "Sweet Nothings: Not All Sweeteners Are Equal." (Cute title. If only they did such a "Splenda-d" job with their science.)

In their review of artificial sweeteners, they describe sugar alcohols and aspartame as generally safe, which is good. And while they call Acesulfame "inadequately tested," it is no surprise, since we know CSPI subscribes to the precautionary principle.

But it was striking that they listed saccharin as "unsafe"!

After all, in 2000, the National Institutes of Health removed saccharin from its "Report on Carcinogens." (See: http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/may2000/niehs-15.htm.)

By now, we all should know that while long-term, high-dose experiments on rats found that saccharin may cause bladder cancer in second-generation male rats, the same does not apply to humans. Surely, if saccharin made people sick, we'd know it from tracking diabetics, a class of people who use more saccharin than the general population. Yet diabetics have shown _no_ increased rate of bladder cancer or any other types of cancer. Sachharin is safe.

So how does CSPI get to "unsafe"? Mainly through inflammatory rhetoric. For instance, they write:

In 1997, the FDA tried to ban saccharin because animal studies showed that it caused cancer of the bladder, uterus, ovaries, skin, and other organs. Bowing to pressure from the diet-food industry and dieters, Congress intervened to keep saccharin on the market, though with a warning label. (At the time, saccharin was the only high-potency sweetener.)

Well, cyclamates could have been an alternative, but the activists had already pressured the FDA into banning them.

So, according to CSPI, Congress bowed to pressure from industry (and dieters!) Never, according to CSPI, has a decision counter to CSPI doctrine been made on its merits. Either you agree with CSPI or you are bowing to pressure, or worse yet, you are "a paid liar for industry."

They continue:

In the late 1990s the Calorie Control Council -- which represents the low-calorie food and beverage industry -- convinced the FDA and the National Institutes of Health that the main health concern about saccharin was bladder cancer in male rats, but that people didn't develop bladder cancer through the same mechanism as the rats.

Again, it was the industry, according to CSPI, which persuaded the apparently malleable scientists at both the Food and Drug Administration and National Institutes of Health that humans don't get bladder cancer the same way rats do. Those FDA and NIH scientists will fall for anything, suggests CSPI.

The untrained reader of CSPI's newsletter is left to think that saccharin is dangerous. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. But until we all start challenging CSPI, they'll continue to get away with it.

Isn't it time we held them accountable?

For more "Isn't it time we held them accountable?" articles, please see: http://www.acsh.org/factsfears/newsID.368/news_detail.asp

For more on Saccharin, please see ACSH's classic, Facts Versus Fears: http://www.acsh.org/publications/pubID.154/pub_detail.asp

And if you want to know a bit more about "carcinogens," please see our Holiday Dinner Menu: