EFSA launched a review of the latest scientific evidence on the artificial sweetener in November 2011 because the European Commission said new scientific evidence had come to light.
Despite numerous global studies ruling that aspartame is safe, it has been plagued by health concerns since it was first approved in the US in 1974.
The high intensity sweetener is found in many low-calorie food and drink products.
In launching the public consultation, EFSA stated: “EFSA’s Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources added to Food (ANS) has launched an open consultation on a draft opinion on the re-evaluation of aspartame (E951). This document is the first full evaluation of aspartame that has been requested of EFSA.
“The ANS Panel has taken all available information including new human safety data into consideration, and the draft opinion addresses the potential safety concerns related to toxicity, carcinogenicity and genotoxicity, as well as possible reproductive and developmental effects related to aspartame and its metabolites and breakdown products.”
Its experts ruled that aspartame poses no concern for consumers at current exposure levels – a statement that will be warmly welcomed by food and drink firms which have repeatedly asserted that aspartame is safe.
Its conclusion to the draft statement added: “The panel concluded from the present assessment of aspartame that there were no safety concerns at the current ADI (acceptable daily intake) of 40mg/kg(by weight)/day.”
However, that panel “emphasised that its evaluation of phenylalanine plasma levels from a dose of aspartame at the ensuing ADI is not applicable to PKU patients. These individuals require total control of dietary phenylalanine intake to manage the risk from elevated phenylalanine plasma levels.”
PKU – short for phenylketonuria – is a genetic disorder which means sufferers can’t process phenylalanine.
Too much phenylalanine is toxic to the brain and can cause many problems. In infants and children, if PKU is not treated, the resulting high phenylalanine can cause severe mental difficulties. Even if PKU is treated problems like brain changes, lower IQ, and behaviour problems may still occur.
In the wake of the draft opinion, EFSA has published all these scientific studies and experiments on aspartame along with all the unpublished scientific data.
EFSA will hold a meeting to discuss its draft opinion and the feedback received from the online public consultation. Feedback from the consultation will be compiled in a report and, where appropriate, incorporated into the final scientific opinion, which the ANS Panel aims to adopt by May 2013.
EFSA has given interested parties until February 15 to respond to its draft opinion.
Meanwhile, FoodManufacture.co.uk is hosting a free science and technology webinar, ‘Food fact and fiction, separating science from myth’ on January 24. Click here to book your place for this free webinar.