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Monsanto Seeks Sweetener OK

<i> From Reuters</i>

Monsanto Co., which makes aspartame sweetener under the NutraSweet brand, said Monday that it has filed for Food and Drug Administration approval of a new no-calorie product that is about 8,000 times sweeter than sugar.

Monsanto said it filed for approval to use the new product, called neotame, as a tabletop sweetener. In 1998, it said, it plans to file for permission to market neotame as a sweetening ingredient in foods and beverages.

Monsanto said neotame culminates a 16-year research and development effort to produce the next-generation of sweetener after aspartame, which was developed by Monsanto’s Searle unit and was launched in 1981 as NutraSweet.

“When [aspartame was launched], we said, ‘If anyone is going to replace aspartame, we want to be the ones to do it,’ ” said Nick Rosa, president of Monsanto’s nutrition and consumer business unit.

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Monsanto, the St. Louis-based life sciences and agricultural company that also makes Roundup herbicide, food ingredients and pharmaceuticals, would not see any revenue from neotame for at least two years. The FDA approval process for neotame is likely to take at least that long, Rosa said.

“We originally called this product ‘Sweetener 2000,’ ” he said, adding that there is still a possibility that Monsanto might be able to market neotame around that year.

If approved by the FDA, neotame has the potential to replace NutraSweet, which has faced intense price competition in major markets because patents that once covered it have expired.

“It is quite likely it will replace aspartame,” Rosa said. “From a taste standpoint, it is at least as good as aspartame. From an economic standpoint, it should be better.”

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Monsanto shares fell $2.50 to close at $38.81 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Neotame’s sweetening power could allow food and beverage processors to use far less of the product than aspartame, sugar or other sweeteners.

“Because this is so much sweeter than sugar . . . it has the potential to replace sugar and high-fructose corn syrup,” Merrill Lynch analyst Douglas Groh said.

Aspartame is about 200 times sweeter than sugar and is widely used in reduced-calorie foods and beverages.

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Rosa said neotame is based on the aspartame formula, but he did not give any further details.

Because of its sweetening power, neotame must be mixed with certain bulking agents in order to be used as a tabletop sweetener. NutraSweet is also mixed with bulking agents for use in tabletop products, such as Equal.

“The next [research] hurdle might be the bulking agent challenge,” Rosa said.


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