Time to bring the science back to food marketing, says Wall

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food safety, Aspartame, Scientific method, Asda

Retailers will be forced to think twice before they use emotive, unscientific and inflammatory rhetoric about E-numbers if the UK's second largest...

Retailers will be forced to think twice before they use emotive, unscientific and inflammatory rhetoric about E-numbers if the UK's second largest grocer loses a landmark case over the sweetener aspartame, according to a leading food safety expert.

Japanese ingredients firm Ajinomoto, which has launched legal action against Asda for referring to aspartame as 'nasty', could set a significant legal precedent if it wins, predicted professor Patrick Wall, who chairs the European Food Safety Authority's (EFSA's) management board.

The use of such derogatory language to deride ingredients that had been exhaustively tested by food safety experts was getting out of hand, added Wall.

"This is my personal opinion - not EFSA's opinion - but if you talk to the food scientists in Asda, they will probably be saying 'Good god, we're never going to get out of this hole'."

He added: "The PR people and the spin doctors get ahead of the scientists, which happens all the time with health claims. But it is a dangerous place to put yourself - using quasi-science to support an argument to get marketing capital."

He added: "This could be a landmark case; there could be lessons to be learned for all retailers: basically, not to use science in the wrong way and not to use the wrong science."

Many industry observers believe Asda could struggle to build a credible defence given that a recent review of the scientific evidence from EFSA concluded that aspartame was safe for human consumption.

The case will be watched closely by firms employing similar rhetoric - such as UK sandwich chain Pret A Manger, which, until recently, urged customers to "avoid hairy chemicals". These are defined as "obscure chemicals, additives and preservatives ... the nasties we avoid at all costs"

Although aspartame has been approved for use in the EU for 20 years and exhaustively tested, Asda has banned its use in its own-label ranges on the grounds that consumers don't want it in their products.

Ajinomoto has tried unsuccessfully to persuade Asda to tone down its rhetoric, and said it had been forced to defend itself.

A spokesman said: "At a time when the health profession and the government are seeking ways to combat overweight and obesity, it is unconscionable that Asda should try and vilify a safe and beneficial food ingredient."

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