Hawaiian aspartame ban stalls on lack of science

By Chris Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food

Moves to ban the use of aspartame in Hawaii appear to have failed
after the bill was deferred until further evidence could be heard.

The decision by the chair of the Hawaiian House Health Committee, Josh Green, was widely criticized by groups in favor of the aspartame ban, who claimed that the decision had been influenced by powerful industry lobbyists.

Campaigners claiming that the sweetener - which is widely used in diet sodas and chewing gum - is carcinogenic and a danger to health, despite more than 25 years on the US market since its approval by the Food and Drug Administration, blamed Japanese firm Ajinomoto, plus a raft of soft drink and confectionery brands that use the sweetener, of persuading Green to postpone the decision on the bill.

Green said he wanted time to read what evidence there was to support claims that the sweetener was dangerous, effectively ruling out any chance of a decision by the legislature in the current year.

An earlier bid to push through a ban on aspartame in the state of New Mexico also ended in failure - again as a result of corporate lobbying, campaigners claim.

Opponents of the sweetener had hoped that the Hawaii Senate would consider the bill favorably because of the impact that artificial sweeteners are alleged to have had on the island's sugar refining industry over the last 20 years.

But in the end it appears that the lack of evidence to support the call for a ban was what prompted Green's decision.

Recent reviews of all the scientific studies of aspartame suggested that studies linking the sweetener to new review of research on the safety of aspartame had 'no credible scientific basis'.

Two studies last year by the Italian Ramazzini group concluded that there was a link between the ingredient and cancer in rats.

But reviews of the studies by the FDA and the European Food Safety Authority suggested that there was no reason to reevaluate the safety of the agreement.

Europe's food regulator has already carried out a review of all the original and more recent data on aspartame in 2002.

Over the years, there have been many studies and assessments looking at aspartame's potential effect on behavior, reproductive health, neurological function, cancer, and tumor development.

They have also covered a broad spectrum of population subgroups, including Parkinson's disease and diabetes sufferers, children with various sensitivities, people with allergies and those suffering from depression.

Last year's review concluded that "the weight of existing evidence is that aspartame is safe at current levels of consumption…" "No credible evidence was found that aspartame is carcinogenic, neurotoxic, or has any other adverse effect on health when consumed even at quantities many times the established ADI [acceptable daily intake] levels."

The reviewers took into consideration modern consumption levels, which were estimated using data from a recent food consumption survey conducted in the United States.

This is crucial given changing consumption patterns over the past 30 years, and penetration of aspartame in the food industry.

However average intake was still found to be low amongst aspartame users - just 4.9 mg/kg of body weight.

The US government-approved upper-limit is 50mg/kg per day.

Given the furor sparked by the Ramazzini studies, the reviews paid particular attention to the methodology and conclusions drawn.

They said they found "numerous flaws".

Moreover, the authors speculated that the carcinogenicity was caused by a methyl group in aspartame metabolizing into formaldehyde.

The reviewers, however, pointed out that the body metabolizes methyl groups from other sources without issue; and moreover, reevaluation of epidemiological studies have led to questions over whether formaldehyde can be considered a carcinogen at all.

The review was sponsored by Ajinomoto.

However Informa Healthcare, which published the review, took precautions to avoid allegations of underhand influence.

It says the panelists were unaware who was footing the bill throughout the review process, and up until submission and peer review of the manuscript.

Likewise, the sponsor as not made aware of the panelists' identities.

"There were no known conflicts of interest with the sponsor or potential biases of the authors," said Informa.

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