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Saccharin cleared for use in foods in Canada

Saccharin, long rejected for food use in Canada, is now allowed for use in beverages and liqueurs, among certain other products. (

An artificial sweetener famously banned in foods in Canada for decades has been quietly re-approved for use in some products.

Saccharin, a non-nutritive ingredient created in the U.S. in the late 19th century and best known for its use in Sweet’N Low table-top sweetener, had been de-listed for use as a food additive in Canada since the 1970s.

Health Canada published a notice of proposal in October last year to re-approve saccharin for use in Canada and found “no safety concerns were raised” during the comment period.

The department announced May 2 it had amended its “List of Permitted Sweeteners” to enable the product’s use effective April 24.

The listing approves saccharin and its salts — calcium saccharin, potassium saccharin and sodium saccharin — for use in small amounts in beverages, liqueurs, frozen desserts, toppings, topping mixes, fruit spreads, canned fruit, chewing gum and “breath freshener products.”

The product’s de-listing in Canada — which allowed “restricted use” of saccharin in its table-top form only — came in the wake of studies in the 1970s which aired concerns that saccharin could be carcinogenic in laboratory rats.

However, Health Canada noted last year in its proposal to re-approve the product, “more recent studies have revealed that the carcinogenic effect of saccharin in rats is not relevant to humans.”

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in recent years has determined saccharin can no longer be considered a “possible carcinogen in humans,” Health Canada noted. The U.S. National Toxicology Program in 2000 also removed saccharin from its list of suspected cancer-causing chemicals.

Citing “food industry requests” to use saccharin in foods sold in Canada, Health Canada said it has run an “exhaustive evaluation” of sodium saccharin toxicological data and concluded that results of the previous studies on rats “are not applicable to humans.”

Those results, the government department said, are “in accord with the conclusions of other regulatory agencies worldwide.” Health Canada has informed stakeholders of its plans to re-list saccharin as far back as 2006.

The Calorie Control Council, a U.S.-based industry group representing makers of alternative sweeteners, said in a release Monday its members are “excited about the approval of saccharin and its salts for several uses in Canada.”

The council has long criticized the rat experiments, saying the study animals “were fed the human equivalent of hundreds of cans of diet soft drinks per day for a lifetime.”

Citing University of Nebraska studies, the council said feeding of high doses of a sodium salt, such as sodium saccharin, to male rats has been found to alter the animals’ urine and can lead to a precipitate forming which, in turn, may lead to formation of bladder tumours.

Such sodium salts, the council said, “produce tumours only when administered at high doses and only in rats,” thus “the mechanism by which the rats develop cancer is not present in humans.” –– Network



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