Aspartame has already been re-assessed five times since it was authorised for use in the EU in 1994. The next review of the chemical sweetener was foreseen for 2020 as part of the systematic re-evaluation of all authorised food additives in the EU.
But following intense political pressure from members of the European Parliament, who were alarmed by new scientific studies showing its potential negative effects, the EU executive has requested the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to bring forward a full re-evaluation of the sweetener's safety to 2012.
Cause of premature childbirth, cancer?
Two studies of the possible health risks related to the consumption of artificial sweeteners were published last year.
A carcinogenicity study in mice exposed to aspartame in feed, conducted by Italian oncologist Morando Soffritti, signalled an increased risk of liver and lung cancer in mice exposed to the chemical sweetener over the course of their lives.
An epidemiological study involving 60,000 pregnant women, carried out by Icelandic researcher Thorhallur Halldorsson, demonstrated that there is a link between intakes of artificially sweetened soft drinks and increased incidences of premature childbirth.
In a February 2011 statement, EFSA concluded that the two studies do not give any reason to reconsider previous safety assessments of aspartame or of other sweeteners currently authorised in the EU.