The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has opened a public consultation on its safety assessment of aspartame and has found no safety concern at current intake levels, following studies that linked the sweetener to increased risk of cancer and pre-term births.
The European Commission requested an urgent re-evaluation of aspartame’s safety in 2011, after studies linked high aspartame consumption with increased risk of lung cancer in rodents, and diet soft drink intake with higher risk of pre-term delivery in an epidemiological study of 60,000 Finnish women. EFSA’s scientific experts assessed these studies and found no reason to change the sweetener’s acceptable daily intake (ADI) level.
However in April 2011, the European Parliament’s Environment committee pushed for a warning label on products containing aspartame stating that they may not be suitable for pregnant women, which also helped to prompt EFSA’s fast-tracked re-evaluation of the sweetener.
It has now published a draft scientific opinion of aspartame’s safety, based on a review of more than 600 studies, and again found that current consumption levels were safe for the general population. Before the review was pushed forward, EFSA had been expected to reassess its safety by 2020, as part of a systematic review of all EU-approved food additives.
The document reads: "In this re-evaluation of the safety of aspartame, EFSA's scientific experts have drawn upon all available information on aspartame and its breakdown products and, following a detailed and methodical analysis, have concluded in this draft opinion that they pose no toxicity concern for consumers at current levels of exposure. The current Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) is considered to be safe for the general population and consumer exposure to aspartame is below this ADI."
The only group for whom EFSA considered aspartame consumption to be risky was for those with phenylketonuria, characterised by an inability to break down the amino acid phenylalanine, which is present in aspartame as well as a wide variety of other foods.
EFSA previously has reexamined aspartame in the light of independent studies, but this is the first time EFSA has completely re-evaluated the sweetener's safety since it was first approved for use in the EU in 1994.
The food safety body has put forward a call for comments by February 15, 2013. More information on how to do so is available here .