The European Parliament has cleared amendments to the sweetener directive, but only after setting up a trail of conditions - including a closer monitoring of new sweeteners.
At the second reading, the Parliament adopted a legislative resolution to bring two new products - salt of aspartame-acesulfame and sucralose - within the scope of the 1994 directive on the use of sweeteners.
However, a safety review is on the cards. The Parliament succeeded in obliging the Commission to report to Parliament on progress made in the re-evaluations of all additives, in particular salt of aspartame-acesulfame and sucralose, within two years of the directive's entry into force, but not before.
"Although the Scientific Committee on Food consulted by the Commission has given aspartame the green light, according to some scientific opinion it can cause brain tumours.
The other component, acesulfame, could be carcinogenic, say some sources. And some scientists believe there are even more problems in any combination of the two sweeteners. By contrast, there are at present few indications that sucralose may be harmful," said the Parliament in a statement last week.
In addition, Parliament refused to allow the Commission the right, which it is demanding, to decide whether a substance is a sweetener or not.
"MEPs believe this right should only be granted at a later stage, when the entire framework legislation has been amended," added the MEPs in a recent statement.
The tough stance continued with MEPs suggesting that products not up to the requirements of the legislation "should not remain on the market more than 24 months after the legislation enters into force". In contrast, the European Council, made up of ministers from the EU Member States, was prepared to allow sales to continue until stocks run out.
The fourth and final amendment to Directive 94/35/EC on sweeteners for use in foodstuffs was, however, rejected. Tabled on behalf of a small number of Green party members, it requested that aspartame be re-evaluated and that products containing aspartame have additional labelling, and furthermore that the Commission re-examine the restrictions on the use of stevioside (extract of stevia plant).
Commenting during the debate, European Commissioner David Byrne made no bones about the Commision's position regarding the fourth amendment.
" The Commission cannot accept this amendment for the following reasons. At the request of the Commission, aspartame has been re-evaluated by the Scientific Committee on Food in collaboration with the British and French Food Safety Authorities.
To this end, the scientists have reviewed all the scientific literature published since the last opinion on aspartame, amounting to some 150 articles. The resulting opinion, adopted as recently as December of last year, fully reconfirmed the safety of aspartame and that the intake of this sweetener remains well below the acceptable daily intake."
MEP Bowis (PPE-DE) went further. "Scaremongering of this sort can only undermine public confidence in the bodies set up to protect our food and our health. With such widespread consensus from regulatory bodies, it seems wasteful to divert the overstretched EFSA from meaningful work into an endless cycle of re-evaluation."