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1977: Saccharin banned as a food additive

Saccharin is causing bladder cancer in laboratory rats, and Health and Welfare Canada is imposing a ban on the sugar substitute as a food additive. Consumers can still buy saccharin as a tabletop sweetener, but manufacturers of diet soft drinks are likely to be hit hard by the prohibition. As this CBC report mentions, there's no substitute for saccharin.
• Saccharin was an accidental discovery. In 1879, Baltimore chemist Constantin Fahlberg sat down to dinner, took a slice of bread and noticed it tasted unusually sweet. He'd neglected to wash his hands after work. With the help of a colleague, Ira Remsen, he traced it back to a substance he'd been working on and the pair synthesized the new sweet substance in bulk.

• One teaspoon of sugar contains 16 calories; there are no calories in saccharin, which is at least 200 times sweeter than sugar.
• The name saccharin comes from the Latin saccharum, which means sugar.

• The saccharin ban in Canada remains in effect today. Though there was no comparable sugar substitute at the time of the ban, several later entered the market: aspartame (also known as NutraSweet), sucralose (Splenda), and the natural herb stevia, a relatively new alternative.

• In the United States, a ban was proposed by the Food and Drug Administration in 1977, but Congress placed a moratorium on the ban, citing consumer demand. However, products using saccharin were obliged to carry a label warning that the substance had caused cancer in lab rats. In 2000, saccharin was removed from the U.S. government's list of carcinogens, and the warning labels were no longer required.

• According to the study that prompted the ban, a human would have to consume the equivalent of 800 cans of diet drinks a day to risk getting cancer from saccharin. Subsequent studies have also shown that there is a minimal risk of cancer associated with saccharin consumption.

Also on March 9:
1916: Ontario passes the Temperance Act prohibiting the sale and production of alcohol in the province. The act is repealed in 1921.
1970: The inaugural Arctic Winter Games are held in Yellowknife.
1999: Health Canada approves Pfizer's anti-impotence drug Viagra after a two-year safety review.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News
Broadcast Date: March 9, 1977
Reporter: John Blackstone
Duration: 2:23

Last updated: February 20, 2013

Page consulted on February 14, 2014

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