Cyclamate is the name given to a family of organic compounds that became popular in the 1950s as artificial sweeteners. They are about 30 times as sweet as ordinary table sugar (sucrose) but have none of sugar's calories. By the mid-1960s, a combination of cyclamate and saccharin (another artificial sweetener) known as Sucaryl had become one of the most popular alternatives to sugar.

Trouble arose in 1969, however. A scientific study showed that among rats fed a high dose of Sucaryl for virtually their whole lives, about 15 percent developed bladder cancer. Presented with this information, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided to ban the use of cyclamate in foods. In 1973, Abbott Laboratories, the makers of cyclamate, petitioned the FDA to change its mind and allow the use of cyclamates once more. Abbott presented a number of studies showing that cyclamate does not cause bladder cancer in rats or have other harmful health effects.

The FDA studied Abbott's petition for seven years before deciding to reject it. Cyclamate remained banned for use in foods. In 1982, Abbott submitted a second petition asking for approval of cyclamate. As of the beginning of 2001, the FDA had not acted on that petition.

What makes this case of special interest is that a potentially important food additive has been banned on the basis of a single scientific study. More than two dozen other studies on its safety reportedly failed to show the same results. Furthermore, the second component of Sucaryl—saccharin—has also been shown to cause bladder cancer in experimental animals. Yet the FDA continues to allow its use in foods.

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