A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ban on the use of saccharine in foods and beverages because it allegedly causes cancer has stirred controversy among physicians and concern among some students threatened with the loss of their favorite diet soft drinks.
Frank J. Weissbecker, director of food services, said yesterday that if the ban is enforced, the soft drink Tab and the sugar substitute Sweet'n'Low will disappear from Harvard dining halls.
Local cancer and nutrition experts yesterday disagreed on the validity of a Canadian study, cited in support of the ban by FDA officials, that finds saccharine to be carcinogenic.
"I do not think that the study should lead to the banning of saccharine." Dr. Emile Frei, director of the Sidney Farber Cancer Institute, a Harvard affiliate, said yesterday. He added that because abnormally high doses of saccharine injected into rodents caused very few cases of cancer, the study does not effectively demonstrate that saccharine is harmful to humans.
Jean Mayer, former professor of Nutrition and current president of Tufts University, said yesterday he finds the study convincing because it tests effects on two successive generations of rodents. He added that there is no evidence to show that lower doses could not, over time, bring on effects like those produced in a short period by large doses.
"The cancer may take five to ten years more to develop in the case of lower doses, but the substance may still be carcinogenic," he said.
Many weight-conscious Harvard students contacted yesterday said that they are worried about the saccharine ban. Abigail B. Mason '80, who estimated that she consumes 36 to 48 ounces of Tab a day, said yesterday, "I am distraught."
Christian D. Clemenson '80 said yesterday, "I don't know how I'll live without it."
An employee at the food store Cahaly's said yesterday that student have bought out the entire supply of saccharine.
Some students contacted were less upset. "I'm not worried," A. Wing Sommers '80 said yesterday. "We just bought ten cases of Tab," he said.
Mark A. Creatura '80 said he plans "o hoard Sweet'n'Low and sell it for a profit."
Physicians have also expressed concern about the ban's effects on treatment for diabetes and obesity, which often includes the substitution of saccharine for sugar.
Frei said yesterday that the ban will "complicate treatment," although he assumes that saccharine will still be available through prescriptions.
Mayer said he thinks saccharine has little effect on the treatment of obesity and that it gives dieters a "false sense of security."
"It was pleasant to have, and many people are hooked on the sweet taste," he said, but he added that weight loss should be based on a complete change in eating habits rather than on the use of one product.