Product Linked To Premature Births And Cancer Cleared By European Experts
The controversial low-calorie artificial sweetener, aspartame, has been cleared by European food experts as ‘safe for human consumption’ the Daily Mail reports.
The move has been welcomed by manufacturers, who have been using the sugar alternative in fizzy drinks, such as Diet Coke, and snacks for 30 years.
However, one leading British expert has accused the European experts of failing consumers and being biased in favour of the food industry.
Aspartame has come under suspicion as a result of research studies drawing links to everything from allergic reactions to cancer and premature births.
However, a study by experts on behalf of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), has found it has no harmful effects.
EFSA said yesterday: ‘Aspartame and its breakdown products are safe for human consumption at current levels of exposure.’
The chairman of the expert panel which assessed the sweetener, Dr Alicja(correct) Mortensen, said: ‘This opinion represents one of the most comprehensive risk assessments of aspartame ever undertaken.
‘It’s a step forward in strengthening consumer confidence in the scientific underpinning of the EU food safety system and the regulation of food additives.’
Concerns about artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, have centred on the fact that they contain methanol.
Methanol is a nerve toxin, which can be metabolised in the body to form formic acid, which is another nerve toxin, as well as formaldehyde, which is the chemical used to preserve dead bodies.
However, the EFSA panel said methanol is also found in other foods such as fruit and vegetables, while the exposure related to consuming aspartame was ‘low’.
The findings of EFSA echo the results of a study published by Britain’s Food Standards Agency last week, which found no evidence of harm as a result of human feeding trials.
Human guinea pigs were fed cereal snack bars, some of which contained the artificial sweetener, by a team of researchers at Hull York Medical School.
The study recruited 50 people who had reported reactions after consuming aspartame in the past, such as headaches and nausea. However, the investigation found no evidence of harm.
Erik Millstone, the Professor of Science Policy at the University of Sussex, questioned the validity of the EFSA conclusions.
He said the EFSA panel set up to carry out the safety assessment was dominated by experts linked to manufacturers or regulators that have previously supported aspartame.
‘I am very disappointed but not remotely surprised,’ he said.
‘The announcement demonstrates that the EFSA panel on food additives is biased in favour of the chemical and food industries and cannot be relied on to protect or promote consumer interests or public health.’
The professor pointed to several studies that raise questions about the safety of aspartame and justify the need for further research.
An EU funded project published in 2010 found pregnant women who down cans of fizzy drink containing artificial sweeteners appear to be at greater risk of having a premature baby.
The professor also highlighted work by the independent Ramazzini Foundation in Italy, which has published research suggesting aspartame caused several types of cancer in rats at doses very close to the current acceptable daily intake for humans.
The International Sweeteners Association (ISA) welcomed the EFSA opinion and quoted Professor Andrew Renwick, from the University of Southampton, supporting the decision.
Prof Renwick reassured consumers, saying: ‘The food industry is a very closely regulated sector.
The EFSA Panel on Additives and Nutrient Sources added to Food is made up of excellent experts from a wide range of disciplines who have analysed and assessed all available data.
‘People should be confident that the data reviewed is the most up-to-date and that the EFSA opinion is based on all existing scientific facts. Aspartame is a simple compound made from two amino acids and a methyl group, all of which occur naturally in the diet and are consumed in larger amounts from other normal dietary sources.’
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