April 3, 2006

US group questions artificial sweetener Splenda

By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Splenda, a popular artificial
sweetener, may cause stomach pains and other digestion problems
and should be pulled from the U.S. market until more research
can be done to assess its safety, consumer advocates said on

In a petition to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,
Citizens for Health asked the agency to withdraw its approval
of the zero-calorie sugar substitute pending further
investigation of possible side effects.

Splenda is owned by Johnson & Johnson's McNeil Nutritionals
unit and manufactured by Tate & Lyle Plc.

Hundreds of consumers and doctors have told the group about
severe stomach pain and other gastrointestinal trouble, said
Jim Turner, a lawyer and board chairman of Citizens for Health.
He also told reporters at a news conference most felt better a
month after discontinuing Splenda.

"This is not a product that has any kind of relevance to
sugar. It is an artificial sweetener created with a powerful
chemical," said Turner, whose group is funded by consumer
members and health food makers and retailers.

But Tate & Lyle said the petition is an attempt to thwart
Splenda's commercial success.

"The simple fact about sucralose is that there is no
evidence that it causes any side effects whatsoever. This is
why a safety statement or warning label has never been
required," it said.

Splenda, the latest mass-marketed artificial sweetener
aimed at consumers looking to control their diet or sugar
intake, has been sold in the United States since 1998. It
contains sucralose, a chemically altered version of sugar that
replaces naturally found hydrogen and oxygen with chlorine.

A number of soft drinks, snack foods and other products
also contain Splenda, which is 600 times sweeter than sugar.

Other FDA-approved artificial sweeteners, including
aspartame and saccharin, have also faced controversy over
potential health risks. The FDA has said it stands behind those
products but constantly monitors for safety issues.

Eighty-four percent of Americans use sugar substitutes or
products containing them, according to the industry group
Calorie Control Council.

Splenda is a key product for Tate & Lyle, accounting for
about 20 percent of the company's profit. The London-based
ingredient maker controls sales to food and drink makers while
McNeil sells the product to retailers.

Recent competition from Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which began
selling its own sweetener, Altern, in February, have threatened
Splenda and put pressure on Tate's shares.

McNeil Nutritionals said more than 100 studies have found
sucralose safe. But Citizens for Health said studies in people
were never conducted with Splenda.

Laura Tarantino, director of the FDA's Office of Food
Additive Safety, said there is a reporting system for
food-related problems but it showed no evidence of a Splenda

"It is very difficult to track these (problems) because
when someone eats something and then has a stomach ache it's
very difficult for anybody to know what it relates back to,"
she said.

Tarantino said she planned to review the petition but had
not yet seen it.