Ajinomoto seeks resolution to ‘nasty’ slurs

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition Law Aspartame Asda

Aspartame supplier Ajinomoto is pushing for an early resolution to its legal dispute with Asda via a preliminary hearing at London’s High...

Aspartame supplier Ajinomoto is pushing for an early resolution to its legal dispute with Asda via a preliminary hearing at London’s High Court.

Ajinomoto launched legal action against Asda last year after the retailer refused to change the wording on its ‘Good For You’ range, which describes aspartame as a ‘hidden nasty’ along with hydrogenated fat, artificial colours and artificial flavours. It has also banned the use of aspartame in its own-label range.

A High Court judge will have to decide whether such terminology amounts to malicious falsehood now that the supermarket has finally submitted its defence.

Asda has not attempted to justify the ‘nasty’ phrase on scientific grounds - a decision which has come as little surprise to many food law experts given that the European Food Safety Authority recently conducted a review of the evidence and concluded that aspartame was safe for human consumption.

Asda declined to comment specifically on the case, but in a separate interview about its clean labelling policies, company nutritionist Vanessa Hattersley told Food Manufacture​: “We’ve never talked about safety with aspartame. If it’s got an E-number then it’s safe, but if the customer is unsure about something, and we can take it out, we will try and take it out.”

As for the phrase ‘nasty’, “internally, we’re moving away from that now” she claimed, although Asda’s website still includes the phrase ‘No more nasties’ in its healthy eating section. She added: “[the term ‘nasty’] is not to be taken literally. It’s something that’s come up in consumer research. It’s their phrase really, not ours.”

An Ajinomoto spokesman said: “We’re pushing for an early preliminary hearing, which will hopefully take place in a month or two. The most important thing is to stop the denigration of the product.” However the case developed, it was “likely to be resolved by the end of the year one way or another”, he predicted.

In a writ filed last May, Ajinomoto said: ‘In their natural and ordinary meaning, the words on [Asda’s] packaging … would have been understood to mean that aspartame is an especially harmful or unhealthy, or potentially harmful or unhealthy, sweetener and is one that consumers concerned for their own health would do well to avoid.’

At the beginning of 2008 Asda pledged to remove all artificial colours and sweeteners, flavour enhancers and hydrogenated vegetable oil from its 12,000-strong range of own-label products.

It said: “Artificial colours and sweeteners have been removed and in some cases replaced with natural colours, such as fruit and vegetable extracts, or with sucralose, a sweetener made from sugar.”

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