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Aspartame sparks methanol row at food forum

EFSA's aspartame opinion was debated at a House of Commons event
EFSA's aspartame opinion was debated at a House of Commons event

Experts have rubbished claims that the methanol content in aspartame threatens consumer health, following the publication of a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) risk assessment.

Speaking at an All Party Parliamentary Food and Health forum at the House of Commons yesterday (December 10), Dr George Kass, deputy head of EU Food Ingredients and Packaging at EFSA said: “The amount of methanol coming from aspartame is a fraction of what is produced naturally by the body.” 

He explained that the three components making aspartame (aspartic acid, phenylalanine and methanol), which occur widely in the diet in greater amounts than attributed to aspartame, were completely digested by the body. 

EFSA opinion also noted that exposure to methanol from natural food occurrence is a minor contributing source at less than 10%. “The panel noted that for average consumers of aspartame, the contribution from aspartame to the overall exposure of methanol ranged from 1% to 10% in the general population.” 

‘Aspartame brings nothing new to diet’ 

Ailbhe Fallon, consultant for Ajinomoto, which distributes aspartame, backed the EFSA panel opinion and said: “Aspartame brings nothing new to our diet and methanol is methanol is methanol. Our bodies produce far more methanol than comes from aspartame. Our exposure to methanol is partly from our food and methanol coming from aspartame is probably less than 10%.” 

Fallon and Kass were responding to comments made by co-founder of the UK Aspartame Awareness Campaign (UKAAC), Jim McDonald, who criticised EFSA’s position. 

McDonald told EFSA’s risk assessment had “condemned the public to another 10 years of methanol consumption”. 

He said the opinion, which concluded that aspartame posed no threat to consumers if consumed at the acceptable daily intake (ADI) of 40mg/kg body weight per day (bw/day), was wrong. 

Lethal for humans 

He added that tests carried out by the UKAAC observed levels of methanol in rats consuming aspartame that were lethal for humans. As a result he recommended the ADI for aspartame be lowered to 1.14mg/kg, 35 times lower than EFSA recommendation. 

The debate prompted Anthony Colwyn, Member of the House of Lords, to point out the lack of clarity surrounding aspartame from the public’s perspective. He said he was “muddled” about aspartame and whether it was dangerous or not. 

“It’s a massive question and should be resolved. I’m suggesting that, as you went through the detail I did not understand, so I suppose the public find it difficult.”  

He said aspartame was either harmful or not and “one of you has to be wrong”.

4 comments (Comments are now closed)

aspartame drinks and cigarette smoke give similar amounts methanol

The methanol in fruits and vegetables is only dangerous when released from pectins over time when these unfresh foods are cut up and preserved wet at room temperature in sealed cans and jars -- however fresh tomatoes and black currants actually give dangerous amounts of methanol. In humans only, of all creatures, the ADH1 enzyme makes methanol into free floating, uncontrolled formaldehyde right inside the cells of 20 specific tissues -- the formaldehyde strongly binds to and harms DNA, RNA, and proteins, slowly killing cells, the same process as in embalming and disinfection -- the methanol industry is deceiving the public about a very serious toxicity --
WC Monte gives a free archive of 782 full text medical research articles as references at WhileScienceSleeps dot com .

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Posted by Rich Murray
19 December 2013 | 06h24

Methanol metabolism:

When methanol metabolises in humans its first metabolite is Formaldehyde a class 1 carcinogen; it is the formaldehyde which causes us harm and molecule by molecule can kill us over time 0-20 years. “” There is only one significant source of unnatural methanol in our “diet” today – from aspartame - (4.0mg/kg) 280 mg for a 70kg adult. - Natural methanol from fruits and vegetables does us no harm otherwise we would not have any vegetarians or vegans. The only safe level of unnatural methanol in humans is 0.0mg/kg.

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Posted by Jim McDonald
17 December 2013 | 15h08

Like they said

@Marco - It seems to me you didn't quite understand the issue being addressed. The concern is consuming methanol as methanol. And as stated "methanol is methanol is methanol". I for one prefer to minimize consuming methanol but that's just me. The article doesn't address consuming aspartame as aspartame. While I'm not very familiar with the metabolic processes associated with aspartame, the article was unclear about the source of methanol, whether it is residual or a metabolic by product.

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Posted by Tom
16 December 2013 | 17h21

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