EU scientific experts dismiss safety concerns over aspartame, sweeteners

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Soft drink Childbirth Food administration

There are no health risks from the use of aspartame and other low-and-no calorie sweeteners, claimed a gathering of Italian and European food safety, health and nutrition experts this week.

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."

EFSA review

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 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.

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Questioning the article Statements:

Posted by James McDonald,

Questioning the article statements:
To keep this short please refer to the paragraphs in the article, my comment are below:-
Para 4: Dissemination of contrary information – Did they disseminate the Risk from aspartame’s 10% METHANOL.

Para 5: Has the scientific community managed to calculate an ADI for METHANOL. If not considerable room for doubt on aspartame safety still exists.

Para 7: Unless the severe toxicity of METHANOL is taken into account and an ADI ascertained, the safety of aspartame MUST always be in doubt.

Para 8: Conferences like this are ONLY important if ALL the new evidence is considered and “False Alarms” publically silenced.

Para 10: No official reason has been given, for bringing the scheduled aspartame review forward 9YEARS!!. This is a blind, the reason is the EC is concerned by recent information on the METHANOL in aspartame - EFSA concluded their last aspartame safety review in May 2010 and pronounced it safe. Why should we be having another one???

Para 17: The scientists conducting this study commented that METHANOL or its metabolites could have been responsible for the preterm births.

NO SMOKE WITHOUT FIRE – why will FSA /EFSA not take up our challenge and prove that the ADI of aspartame is 35 times too high for safety.

James McDonald

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EFSA - who's side are they on?

Posted by James McDonald,

Anonymous is absolutely correct however, EFSA is not interested in considering any evidence which might indicate a problem with aspartame safety. In their current call for data for the review of aspartame safety, EFSA will not confirm that they will be including our (UKAAC) paper for consideration. We are challenging the ADI of aspartame as being 35times too high for safety due to its METHANOL content. EFSA and the UK FSA have been aware for the last 3 years of our work but have ignored it. If the EFSA is not including ALL evidence submitted to them how can they honestly declare aspartame safe. Since EFSA is already in the process of a review requested by the EC, what was the purpose of this Italian conference but to soften up the public for another "safe" rubberstamping by EFSA.

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What about the people who have been effected?

Posted by Anonymous,

Instead of relying on scientific studies, which have the propensity of being flawed, why don't you ask for input from the people who have actually used aspartame? I was effected - suffering from retinal damage, vertigo, headaches and vestibular neuritis...all "possible" side effects from this chemical additive. What if the effects were tied to genetics? Do the studies take genetics into account or are they a "one size fits all" review? There are plenty of people willing to use aspartame. Conduct a long term human study including people from various nationalities and see what the results are. Wouldn't this be a more reliable, genetically based and dose dependent analysis?

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