Diet cola sweetner in safety spotlight

The sweetener aspartame, consumed by millions every day, will undergo an urgent safety review since being linked to harmful effects on human health, including premature birth and cancer

The safety of the sweetener aspartame, commonly found in diet fizzy drinks, has been questioned by the European Commission since recent findings have indicated direct links to premature birth and cancer.

The concern about aspartame is related to the nerve toxin, methanol. Britain’s Committee on Toxicity (CoT), however, claim long-term exposure to the substance through food is unlikely to damage a person’s health.

‘Aspartame is one of hundreds of flavourings on the market which has been assessed in the past and considered safe,’ says Lucia De Luca, a spokesperson for EFSA.

‘In the past year, there have been a couple of studies looking at aspartame and concerns by consumer groups and others. The re-evaluation is scheduled for 2020 but the Commission asked us to do this re-evaluation now in the light of recent events.’

Last year, Danish researchers who studied over 60,000 mothers found a link between premature birth and the consumption of diet cola. Another study in Italy discovered that when rats were given doses of aspartame similar to the suggested daily human intake, they developed several variations of cancer.  

The EFSA reaffirmed the safety of aspartame in 2006, 2009 and 2010, despite MEPs voting for a mandatory label exposing the harmful risks of aspartame during pregnancy.

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