The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published, on 10 December 2013, its final opinion on the risks associated with aspartame. As it said in a provisional opinion one year ago, it considers that aspartame and its breakdown productsaare safe for human consumption at current levels of exposure. It has recommended to the European Commission that the current acceptable daily intake (ADI) of 40 mg per kilo of body weight should be maintained.

Aspartame (E951) is a powerful low-calorie sweetener, which has been authorised in Europe for almost 30 years. It is used in products such as soda and chewing gum. aLike all food additives used in the EU, aspartame was due for a re-evaluation by 2020, but this assessment was brought forward when several studies found a link between this sweetener and the increase in cancers and premature births. Under pressure from the European Parliament, the Commission asked EFSA to accelerate its work on aspartame, and publish a final opinion in May 2013. Following the publication of three new studies, however, and the large number of comments received, members ofaEFSA's Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources Added to Foods (ANS Panel) decided to delay publication of the report until the end of the year (November).

The final opinion, presented to journalists, confirms that the current ADI provides adequate protection for the general public. This means, apparently, it would be safe to drink 12 cans of sweetened soda a day for an entire lifetime. Nonetheless, the panel specified that this conclusion does not apply to patients suffering fromathe medical condition phenylketonuria (PKU), since they require strict adherence to a diet low in phenylalanine (an amino acid found in proteins).

EFSA's opinion also says that breakdown products from aspartame (phenylalanine, methanol and aspartic acid) are safe for consumers. "Following a thorough review of evidence provided both by animal and human studies, experts have ruled out a potential risk of aspartame causing damage to genes and inducing cancer. EFSA's experts also concluded that aspartame does not harm the brain, the nervous system or affect behaviour or cognitive function in children or adults. With respect to pregnancy, the panel noted that there was no risk to the developing fetus from exposure to phenylalanine derived from aspartame at the current ADI (with the exception of women suffering from PKU)," said the EFSA.

MEP Corinne Lepage (ALDE, France)...

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