In May 2011 the European Commission asked the EU's food safety watchdog (EFSA) to conduct a full re-evaluation of aspartame, after the publication of new scientific studies revealed its potential negative impact on pregnant women and an increased risk of cancer.
Italian oncologist Morando Soffritti published a much-debated study in 2010, which signalled an increased risk of liver and lung cancer in mice exposed to the chemical sweetener over the course of their lives.
And an epidemiological study involving 60,000 pregnant women, carried out by Icelandic researcher Thorhallur Halldorsson the same year, made a link between intakes of artificially sweetened soft drinks and increased incidences of premature childbirth.
Both studies led to calls by members of the European Parliament to re-assess the product's safety.
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.
Regulatory bodies around the world have evaluated the safety of aspartame since the 1980s. However, this is the first full evaluation of aspartame that has been requested of EFSA.
In its draft opinion on the safety of aspartame, EFSA’s scientific experts concluded that it poses no toxicity concern for consumers at normal levels of exposure.
The current acceptable daily intake is considered to be safe for the general population and consumer exposure to aspartame is below this. The only exception is made for patients suffering from the medical condition phenylketonuria, who are encouraged use less of the sweetener.
All interested parties can comment on the draft EFSA opinion online by 15 February 2013. Following the consultation the Authority will hold a meeting with interested parties to discuss the feedback received from the online public consultation.