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Aspartame is safe, EFSA concludes

By Caroline Scott-Thomas+

10-Dec-2013

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has completed a major review of aspartame’s safety, and has concluded that the sweetener is safe for the general population at current consumption levels.

“This opinion represents one of the most comprehensive risk assessments of aspartame ever undertaken,” said the chair of EFSA’s Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources Added to Foods (ANS Panel), Dr Alicja Mortensen.

“It’s a step forward in strengthening consumer confidence in the scientific underpinning of the EU food safety system and the regulation of food additives.”

The food safety body received more than 200 comments during the online phase of its consultation on the safety of aspartame, following publication of its draft scientific opinion on the sweetener in January . Public consultation on aspartame's safety concluded with a public meeting held in April, at which time EFSA said it needed until November to consider the feedback, which included new information.

EFSA says a thorough review of evidence from both animal and human studies has “ruled out a potential risk of aspartame causing damage to genes and inducing cancer.”

The panel also said there was no risk to the developing foetus from aspartame consumption, and that aspartame does not harm the brain, nervous system or cognitive function in children or adults. 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.

Apart from phenylalanine, the opinion also clarifies that other breakdown products of aspartame, such as methanol and aspartic acid, are also naturally present in other foods.

“The contribution of breakdown products of aspartame to the overall dietary exposure to these substances is low,” EFSA said.

The food safety body concluded that the current ADI (acceptable daily intake) of aspartame – 40 mg per kg of bodyweight per day – was protective for the general population. A typical diet soft drink contains about 180mg of aspartame in a can.

Reacting to the EFSA opinion, Emeritus Professor Andrew Renwick, OBE, from the University of Southampton,said in an International Sweeteners Association statement: People should be confident that the data reviewed is the most up-to-date and that the EFSA opinion is based on all existing scientific facts. Aspartame is a simple compound made from two amino acids and a methyl group, all of which occur naturally in the diet and are consumed in larger amounts from other normal dietary sources.”

The full scientific opinion is available online here .

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