On Oct. 18, 1969, the artificial sweetener Cyclamate was banned in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration, in a decision that remains controversial.
Cyclamate was discovered in 1937 by Michael Sveda, while a graduate student at the University of Illinois, when he paused during lab research on anti-fever drugs for a smoke. Sveda, who wasn’t the most fastidious scientist in the world, set his cigarette down on the lab bench. When he stuck it back in his mouth, it tasted oddly sugary. That tipped off the world that cyclamate, a salt created from cyclamic acid that Sveda inadvertently had sampled, had potential as a sweetener. In 1950, cyclamate was initially approved by the FDA, and it initially was used to mask the bitterness of drugs. By the end of the decade, however, it also was being mixed with saccharin, another artificial sweetener, and marketed as a sugar substitute for diabetics and people who needed to lose weight. Diet sodas sweetened with the cyclamate/saccharin blend soon accounted for 30 percent of U.S. soft drink sales.
In the early 1960s, after the thalidomide scandal, the FDA decided to tighten its safety standards and screen drugs and substances for possible reproductive and other health impacts. According to this National Research Council report on cyclamate, when the sweetener was tested on rats, initial research did not indicate potential health hazards. In a subsequent 1969 study, however, scientists tried jacking up the dose of cyclamate/saccharin blend given to the rats to extremely high levels, at which point they saw an increase in bladder tumors. They decided that cyclamate was the culprit, and in 1969, the FDA took away its “Generally Accepted As Safe” rating, and a year later took it off the market completely. As this Associated Press story details, there was an even more disturbing revelation: the agency’s chief pathologist had been fired, possibly to silence him, after he unearthed a 1950 study ignored by regulators, which basically showed the same carcinogenic risk as the later study. Meanwhile,
cyclamate continued to be used as a sweetener in other countries, and still is on the global market today.
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