EU: all clear for sweetener aspartame?

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EU food agency classifies sweetener aspartame as harmless

The sweetener aspartame has been repeatedly criticized in the past. The artificial sugar substitute was suspected of being carcinogenic, damaging the genome and negatively influencing cognitive abilities. However, the risk assessment of the substance and its breakdown products by the EU Food Authority (EFSA) recently came to the conclusion that aspartame is harmless in the amounts in which it is contained in food.

EU food agency: aspartame does not increase the risk of cancer
EFSA said: "After careful evaluation of the findings from animal and human studies, the experts were able to rule out the potential risk of genetic damage or cancer from aspartame." During pregnancy, the phenylalanine contained in aspartame did not pose any risk either developing fetus. "The EFSA experts also concluded that aspartame does not damage the brain or nervous system and does not affect behavior or cognitive functions in children or adults," it said.

Aspartame is used as a sugar substitute in soft drinks, chewing gum, desserts and diet products, among others. But since the 200 times sweeter than sugar has been on the market, consumers have been worried about possible health risks.

“This report is one of the most comprehensive aspartame risk assessments ever conducted. It is an important step in strengthening consumer confidence in the scientific underpinning of the EU food safety system and in the regulation of food additives, ”said Alicja Mortensen, Chair of EFSA's Committee on Food Additives and Food Additives.

Criticism of the risk assessment of aspartame However, critics criticize above all the selection of the studies that the authority used for the risk assessment. "EFSA relies on many poorly conducted and incorrectly documented industrial studies from the 1970s," wrote Erik Millstone, professor of science policy at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, in a nearly 70-page dossier. The studies taken into account had already caused a long-standing dispute in the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) until aspartame was finally approved in 1981. Millstone also points out that the studies were assessed differently: "The 27 studies that indicated a health hazard from aspartame were analyzed very critically and ultimately consistently described as 'not relevant' for the safety assessment." In contrast, they are Studies that rated the sweetener as safe were readily included in the risk assessment. "If the studies had been measured with the same cubit, the result of the aspartame assessment would probably have been very different," emphasizes Millstone. While the critical studies were funded by independent sources, the studies that rated aspartame as harmless almost always supported organizations with commercial interests.

Morando Soffritti, scientific director at the European Ramazzini Institute in Bologna, also criticizes the result of the risk assessment of the sweetener. The cancer potential of aspartame was examined in independent long-term studies by the institute. It was found that both this and two other feeding studies showed an increased number of tumors in the lungs, blood, liver, breast and lymph nodes in more than 3,000 rats and mice. (ag)

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