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France backs aspartame safety but calls for more research

By Shane Starling , 07-Apr-2011

Both EFSA and ANSES say recent studies questioning the safety of aspartame don't warrant a toxicological re-evaluation of the intense sweetener
Both EFSA and ANSES say recent studies questioning the safety of aspartame don't warrant a toxicological re-evaluation of the intense sweetener

French authorities have backed the safety of aspartame after scrutinising two recent studies that linked the intense sweetener with increased rates of cancer and pre-term births.

It said while the two studies which are also under evaluation by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), did not warrant a “toxicological re-evaluation” of aspartame, it was nonetheless establishing a working group to further research the risks and benefits of intense sweeteners.

No date has as yet been confirmed for when that group would begin life, the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES) said.

“The Agency shares the desire of EFSA to study the toxicological risks inherent in sweeteners, in the framework of the European regulations in force, and will contribute to this initiative,” it said.

ANSES said the nutritional benefits of sweeteners also needed to be investigated.

“Apart from the specific toxicological issues, the question of the nutritional value of intense sweeteners is frequently raised. In this context, ANSES will be setting up a working group to assess the nutritional benefits and risks of intense sweeteners and the need to draw up recommendations for any vulnerable population groups - including pregnant women - identified in the course of its work.”

The studies

The two studies related to the consumption of aspartame or soft drinks containing aspartame and other intense sweeteners.

One (Soffritti M. et al.) found increased rates of lung and liver cancer among Swiss male mice dispensed high doses of aspartame in their feed. ANSES dismissed the findings as possessing, “uncertainties and methodological deficiencies” and said it was not therefore possible to transfer the results to human populations.

The other (Halldorsson T.I. et al.) was a large cohort study of 60,000 pregnant women that ANSES acknowledged established statistical links between consumption of carbonated soft drinks and increased risk of pre-term delivery. But, as had the study authors, ANSES said the results did not demonstrate cause and effect and required further study.

EFSA agrees

ANSES’ conclusion echoed EFSA’s own position on the subject, issued in February this year. It concluded that, “the two studies do not give reason to reconsider previous safety assessments of aspartame or of other sweeteners currently authorised in the European Union.”

The EU-approved Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for aspartame is 40 mg/kg body weight.

EFSA said it was working with ANSES on the matter and was in contact with the authors of the studies to better understand the trial design and results.

“EFSA will also continue to monitor scientific literature that may affect the safety assessment of sweeteners such as aspartame,” it said.

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