Aspartame Gets Sweet Revenge, Okayed For Moderate Consumption
December 11, 2013

Aspartame Gets Sweet Revenge, Okayed For Moderate Consumption

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Maligned in studies since it came into use in the 1980s, aspartame has now been deemed safe for regular, moderate consumption by the European Food Safety Authority. Previous research had linked the artificial sweetener to higher risk of cancer and premature birth.

During its assessment, the EFSA said it reexamined the available clinical evidence, listened to stakeholders and considered over 200 comments submitted online.

"This opinion represents one of the most comprehensive risk assessments of aspartame ever undertaken,” EFSA review panel member Alicja Mortensen said in a statement. "It's a step forward in strengthening consumer confidence in the scientific underpinning of the EU food safety system and the regulation of food additives."

Concerns over aspartame have primarily revolved around the fact that it contains methanol. Methanol is a nerve toxin, which can be metabolized into formic acid – another nerve toxin. Methanol can also be metabolized into formaldehyde, a chemical used to preserve dead bodies.

The EFSA panel noted that methanol is also found in fruit and vegetables and the exposure related to aspartame was relatively low. According to the Parma, Italy-based agency, aspartame and its metabolized byproducts are safe for human consumption at the current level of use.

Considered to be 200 times sweeter than sugar, the sweetener is used in many ‘diet’ foods and drinks. The EFSA has set its acceptable daily intake at 88mg per pound of body weight per day – roughly equal to 2.8 grams (0.09 oz) for an average adult and 0.6 grams (0.02 oz) for the average 3-year-old child. The agency noted that people with the genetic disease phenylketonuria cannot safely consume aspartame.

"Aspartame has been the sweetener with the biggest 'conspiracy theory' stories ever- ranging from behavior issues in children to liver damage and cancer - all totally disproven, yet again, by this detailed scientific review,” Catherine Collins, a dietician at St George's Hospital NHS Trust, told BBC News.

Erik Millstone, a scientific policy expert at the University of Sussex, questioned the EFSA panel’s conclusions – telling the Daily Mail that the panel was packed with experts tied to manufacturers or aspartame-supporting regulators.

“I am very disappointed but not remotely surprised,” he said. “The announcement demonstrates that the EFSA panel on food additives is biased in favor of the chemical and food industries and cannot be relied on to protect or promote consumer interests or public health.”

The professor noted several studies that raise doubts about the safety of aspartame – including a 2010 project that linked artificial sweeteners to a greater risk of having a premature baby.

Meanwhile, the International Sweeteners Association (ISA) welcomed the EFSA opinion and quoted Andrew Renwick, OBE, a professor of medicine from the University of Southampton, supporting the decision.

“The food industry is a very closely regulated sector,” Renwick said. “People should be confident that the data reviewed is the most up-to-date and that the EFSA opinion is based on all existing scientific facts. Aspartame is a simple compound made from two amino acids and a methyl group, all of which occur naturally in the diet and are consumed in larger amounts from other normal dietary sources.”