Sweetener backed by research before EFSA verdict

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Scientific method Aspartame European food safety authority

The FSA's Committee on Toxicity stated the study raised no public health concerns
The FSA's Committee on Toxicity stated the study raised no public health concerns
Controversial sweetener aspartame has sparked no health concerns in a study reviewed by the Food Standards Agency’s Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer products and the Environment (COT).

The committee’s peer review preempts the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA’s) safety evaluation of the high intensity sweetener, which is expected to be issued later this month.

COT’s review of the FSA-commissioned work, led by Hull York Medical School, concluded that “the results presented did not indicate any need for action to protect the health of the public”​.

Self-diagnosed reactions

The research in question solely looked at the reported effects of self-diagnosed reactions to aspartame and did not consider its overall safety evaluation.

It was a double-blind randomised cross-over study, which aimed to record any effects subjects encountered from eating cereal bars containing aspartame, which bears the designated E-Number E951.

The study recruited individuals who reported reactions after consuming the sweetener, alongside a matched control group of individuals who normally consumed foods containing it without problems.

Volunteers randomly consumed either bars containing the sweetener or bars with a similar flavour, but without aspartame. Neither the researchers nor the participants knew which bars were which.

The study has been submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal and the FSA aims to reveal the full details as well once it has been published.

‘No toxicity’ worries

EFSA launched a full public consultation​ on the safety of aspartame in January after publishing a draft opinion, which stated that it posed “no toxicity” worries for consumers at current levels of use.

At the time, EFSA’s Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources Added to Food reported “no safety concerns at the current ADI ​[acceptable daily intake] of 40mg/kg (by weight)/day”.

That said, an exception was made in the case of patients suffering from phenylketonuria, a genetic inability to process phenylalanine, an ingredient of aspartame.

Negative mental side-effects

Such people could suffer negative mental side-effects from consuming aspartame, according to the FSA​.

EFSA’s public consultation followed its review of the latest scientific information on the sweetener, which began in November 2011, after the European Commission said​ new scientific evidence had emerged about it.

Aspartame has been used in a variety of products, including soft drinks and confectionery.

However, it has been dogged by claims that it could damage health since it was first approved for use in the US in 1974 and many manufacturers have switched to alternatives in response to consumer pressure.

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