Aspartame-maker Ajinomoto has challenged the Food Standards Agency's (FSA's) decision to conduct new research on the sweetener, which has been exhaustively tested in recent years and repeatedly given a clean bill of health.
The FSA's proposed pilot study - designed to inform a larger study by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) - was "not to test the safety of aspartame, which has already been established", said the FSA, but to address "anecdotal reports" from consumers claiming to have had adverse reactions to it such as stomach aches and headaches.
Its decision was puzzling given that EFSA recently concluded there was "no need to further review the safety of aspartame" and no reason to revise acceptable daily intakes, said Ajinomoto.
Anecdotal reports apparently sparking the FSA's study included "rumours circulated on the internet by scaremongers and conspiracy-theorists, mostly from the United States", an Ajinomoto spokeswomen claimed.
"Aspartame is made from two amino acids and digested just like any other protein," she added. She expected a preliminary hearing to be held at London's High Court later this year. "The most important thing is to stop the denigration of our product."