A conference at the head offices of the Italian ministry for health on Wednesday - No-Calorie Intense Sweeteners – Focus on Safety of Use - saw the scientists conclude that sweeteners currently available on the market are “safe for consumption”.
Vittorio Silano, chair of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)’s scientific committee, was one of the participants at the event.
Speaking at the event, Andrea Poli, scientific director of Nutrition Foundation of Italy (NFI), said: "Recent years have seen the dissemination of contradictory information about the alleged health risks arising from the consumption of some low- and no- calorie sweeteners such as aspartame.
This information is generally contrary to the prevailing opinion of the scientific community. At today's conference…. top-tier experts said that there is no longer room for doubt about the safety of these substances, which have been thoroughly evaluated and approved by the appropriate regulatory authorities."
Marina Marinovich, president of the Italian Society of Toxicology, and a conference participant said:
"All food additives are subjected to broad-ranging and in-depth testing before they obtain approval, and low- and no- calorie sweeteners are no exception. The studies questioning the safety of these substances have generally been based on parameters that do not comply with commonly accepted methods, and must therefore be deemed inadmissible from a scientific perspective."
Meanwhile, John Christian Larsen, chief consultant in toxicology and risk assessment at the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark noted that “debate and communication like today's conference are important, as they aim to clarify many "false alarms" on low- and no- calorie sweeteners' safety launched in the past."
April this year saw the European Parliament’s Environment committee pushing for a warning label on products containing aspartame stating that they may not be suitable for pregnant women.
On the back of the MEPs’ concerns and on a request for a thorough literature review, a re-assessment of the safety of aspartame is now underway at EFSA, bringing forward a scheduled re-evaluation of aspartame from 2020 to 2012.
EFSA recently told FoodNavigator.com that it asked the regulator for an extension of the review period until the end of September 2012 to allow enough time for the agency to conduct a full risk assessment of the sweetener “in view of the fact that a public call for data had to be conducted first.”
In response to the call for data, the Parma-based risk assessor said it has received more than 600 studies, including the 112 studies that supported the original application.
“We intend to put the draft opinion to a public consultation sometime in either spring or summer 2012,” added the agency.
Pregnancy label warning
In November scientists attached to the Réseau Environnement Santé (RES) in France urged the French Minister of Health to inform women about the dangers of aspartame during pregnancy.
Paris-based (RES) - Environmental Health Network - said it was taking advantage of the celebration of World Day for Prematurity to communicate to Minister Xavier Bertrand their concerns over the intake of aspartame during pregnancy, citing studies associating the sweetener with increased risk for preterm births.
RES argues that the prevention of all early and late prematurity should be a priority for the ministry and stressed the need to inform pregnant women about all risk factors.
As evidence for their concerns, the French campaigners reference a study published last year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition which found that pregnant Danish women who consumed at least four servings of artificially sweetened carbonated soft drinks per day were at a 78% higher risk of preterm birth than women who did not consume any soft drinks.