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Co. Seeks FDA Approval of Sweetener

December 23, 1997

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ Monsanto Co. has taken the first step toward giving the public an artificial sweetner that’s 8,000 times sweeter than sugar but has zero calories.

The St. Louis-based company said Monday it has filed a petition with the Food and Drug Administration for approval of a sweetener called neotame for tabletop use.

Monsanto hopes to petition the FDA to approve neotame as a general purpose sweetener by this time next year, said Nick Rosa, president of Monsanto’s nutrition and consumer unit.

General use approval would allow neotame to be used as a sweetening ingredient in any food or beverage product sold in the United States.

Neotame could mean huge savings for food and beverage makers because extremely small quantities would be needed to sweeten products, Monsanto spokeswoman Scarlett Lee Foster said.

Analyst Douglas Groh of Merrill Lynch said neotame has been in the works for 16 years.

``It has the potential to replace sugar as well as high fructose corn syrup in the marketplace,″ he said. ``It could mean potentially, at a minimum, half a billion dollars a year in revenue for Monsanto.″

It was Monsanto that discovered aspartame, used in its NutraSweet brand of sweeteners. Aspartame is 200 to 400 times sweeter than sugar and has just a trace of calories. NutraSweet, launched in 1981, is the world’s top-selling brand of artificial sweetener.

But some studies and consumer groups have questioned the safety of aspartame, citing possible links to cancer and other diseases.

``The record on aspartame is very murky and cloudy,″ said Rod Leonard, executive director of the Community Nutrition Institute, a consumer group in Washington. ``There’s vast reason to be concerned about the type of product (Monsanto) would bring into the market. We plan to look at this one extremely closely.″

Monsanto said both aspartame and neotame are safe.

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