EFSA calls for scientific data on aspartame

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Efsa, European union, European food safety authority

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has publically called for scientific data on aspartame for consideration in its full re-evaluation, but there is no reason for fresh assessment according to one expert.

EFSA recently accepted a request from the European Commission for the re-evaluation of the artificial sweetener aspartame, to be completed in 2012. The latest risk assessment of the safety of the food additive will be based on all the latest available scientific and technical data.

EFSA said that its scientific cooperation efforts, particularly with its partners in EU Member States, and liaisons with international partners, mean it can “draw on a well-established network to ensure that all the relevant data are considered.”

Speaking with FoodNavigator, Professor Andrew Renwick, a former scientific advisor for the International Sweetener Association said he saw no scientific or clinical reason for the requested pre-scheduled re-evaluation of aspartame.”

He warned that the request by the European Commission to bring forward the assessment “may set an unwanted precedent for the Commission and EFSA where any pressure group may be able to push their agenda to the detriment of the already overcrowded EFSA priority list.”

“EFSA has evaluated and commented on all recent studies and has concluded that there is no need to modify the acceptable daily intake. In contrast, there is public concern, based on various spurious and unsubstantiated health claims that are widely distributed via the web, and I suspect that this request is based on the perceived needs of consumers, rather than any real scientific justification,” ​commented Renwick.

Sweetener safety

Aspartame is a low-calorie, intense sweetener, approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar. European legislation harmonising its use in foodstuffs was introduced in 1994.

The call for data on aspartame comes after the European Commission asked EFSA to conduct a full re-evaluation of the safety of the sweetener by July 2012, after members of European parliament (MEPs’) raised concerns about the sweeteners safety.

MEPs’ concerns were raised after EFSA took the decision to look closely at two recent studies that suggested aspartame may be linked to the risk of certain cancers and premature births. EFSA initially said that the studies did not give reason to reconsider safety of aspartame and over approved sweeteners, however they subsequently decided to perform an in-depth study of the evidence.

Renwick told FoodNavigator that the recent research has already been assessed by EFSA, who found that there is no health concern from the data provided.

“I find it very difficult to understand why European MEP's would not accept advice from the agency that they have helped to organise and establish to give them advice on the safety of food and food components,"​ he said.

Clash

There has already been a clash between MEPs and EFSA over aspartame, after the agency expressed disappointment over the Parliament’s reporting of a hearing over aspartame in which it participated in March.

It said in a statement: “Unfortunately, when reporting the outcomes of this meeting, the organisers of the hearing continue to repeat errors and misinformation. EFSA reaffirms that any possible risks from aspartame have been considered by scientific bodies worldwide and the current Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) ensures consumers are protected.”

New data

The call for scientific data will run from 1 June until 30 September 2011, and will help to ensure that the new risk assessment of the safety of aspartame will be the most thorough and up-to-date yet, said EFSA.

To complete its evaluation, EFSA said that it requires all available scientific and technical data – published, unpublished and newly generated – related to the use of aspartame in food and drinks and as a table-top sweetener.

It said that following the public call for data, a document summarising the relevant data available will be prepared, said EFSA. This data will then be considered in the fresh risk assessment, due in 2012.

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