EFSA consults the public before completing opinion on aspartame

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The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) received more than 200 comments during an online public consultation on its draft opinion on the food additive aspartame. The results, together with the outcome of a stakeholder meeting last week, will be published with EFSA's final scientific opinion in May.

 

EFSA launched a public consultation on its draft scientific opinion on the re-evaluation of aspartame as a food additive in January.

All stakeholders and interested parties were invited to comment on the draft opinion through an online consultation by 15 February.

This process was initiated to ensure the widest possible range of scientific views and information are considered before EFSA's Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources Added to Food (ANS Panel) adopts its opinion, the Authority said.

In the draft opinion, EFSA's experts concluded that the current acceptable daily intake is safe for the general population, and that the consumer exposure is below the acceptable daily intake. The experts also concluded that the aspartame and its breakdown products do not oppose a safety concern for consumers at the current level of exposure.

While EFSA has reviewed new studies on aspartame in the past, the authority will publish the first full risk assessment of aspartame, carried out by the ANS Panel.

During the phase of EFSA's public consultation, the authority received a total of 219 comments on its draft opinion.

The majority of these were submitted by NGOs and members of the food industry and journalists. Most questions concerned consumer exposure to aspartame, scientific aspects of the opinion and related policy issues.

New openness?

Last Tuesday, EFSA's scientific experts also held a meeting with 50 participants including representatives of national food safety authorities, EU institutions, consumer groups, NGOs, academia and the food industry.

Discussions included how EFSA's experts select studies for its risk assessments, the safety of the metabolites of aspartame and how best to express uncertainties highlighted in the draft opinion.

Research Director at the International Prevention Research Institute Philippe Autier who took part in EFSA's stakeholder meeting told EURACTIV that he "sincerely" believes EFSA is doing the right thing to ensure ensure transparency.

"I’m pretty sure that some of the points and opinions raised during the meeting will be evaluated by the EFSA panel on aspartame and incorporated in the final report," Autier said.

"Otherwise, I do not see why EFSA would have had the public consultation and organised the conference. Under the current circumstances, it is the best EFSA can do. It's up to anyone to make his own perception of the EFSA report and the opinions they received," the research director added.

At a press briefing Tuesday in Brussels, Dr Claudia Heppner of EFSA's Food Ingredients and Packaging (FIP) unit said that the meeting was important to EFSA. The authority was reminded, Heppner said, what comments it had received through the public consultation, to make sure that it understood them right.

"The working group and the panel will basically look into these comments and ensure that we have captured everything right before the panel will adopt the opinion," Heppner said.

Positions

Speaking after EFSA's meeting with stakeholders, Chair of the ANS Panel Alicja Mortensen said:

"We have learned a lot from this consultation and the opportunity provided by this meeting to better understand the comments submitted. We have seen for instance that we need to better explain why we include or exclude certain studies from our risk assessment as well as the uncertainties and limitations of some of the studies available. We will consider all the points raised today very carefully in the finalisation of our opinion."

Background

 

Aspartame is a low-calorie sweetener. The odourless white powder is approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is used in a number of low-calorie foodstuffs such as drinks, desserts, sweets, dairy, chewing gum and weight-control products.

When contained in products it is labelled either as "E951", "containing a source of phenylalanine" or "with sweetener". In the EU, aspartame was approved by legislation in 1994 as a food additive and is authorised in 33 different food categories.

After several re-evaluations since that approval, EFSA has concluded that, based on all scientific evidence, aspartame remains safe for human consumption and there is no scientific basis for reconsidering its use in foods.

Timeline

  • May 2013: EFSA to publish final opinion on aspartame.

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