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Industry damns sucralose study at cancer conference

By Kacey Culliney , 25-Apr-2012
Last updated on 26-Apr-2012 at 11:13 GMT

Research led by the controversial Italian scientist, Dr Morando Soffriti, linking the artificial sweeteners sucralose and aspartame to cancer, was presented today at the Children with Cancer science conference in London; a move industry is damning “irresponsible”.

Soffritti presented several older studies on aspartame but also revealed findings from his latest research on sucralose, though he noted that the  presented data had yet to be statistically evaluated, and thus currently remains unpublished.

He told attendees that 134 male and female Swiss mice had been fed with 99.4% purity sucralose at varying concentrations from prenatal life to death. The first results indicate that “sucralose in our experimental conditions induces a dose-related incidence of leukaemia in males.”

“On the basis of this study a second study needs to be conducted,” he said, and “we believe that action must be taken to review the present regulation governing the use of both aspartame and sucralose.”

Industry has joined forces in ousting the scientific research as “false” and “flawed” and damned Soffritti’s decision to present this at the conference as “irresponsible” and “inappropriate” for a scientist.

Flawed, rejected, old science

“This study, by a laboratory whose work has been dismissed by regulatory agencies, seems designed to produce scary but entirely false allegations,” Tate & Lyle said.

“It has not been reviewed by independent scientists, has not been published for independent review and does not follow internationally agreed scientific procedures,” it said.

Soffritti has been leading long-term carcinogenicity studies into aspartame, and now sucralose, since 2005 at the European Ramazzini Foundation (ERF) - a private research institute in Bologna, Italy.

The work of the institute has long been called into question by industry and regulatory authorities and discredited widely; by numerous ESFA panels, the FDA, the New Zealand and French Food Safety Authorities (NZFSA and ANSES), along with the UK’s department of health’s committee on the Carcinogenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COC).

Professor Andy Renwick, from the Faculty of Medicine and the UK’s University of Southampton, noted that Soffritti acknowledged these reviews “but ‘forgot’ to mention that EFSA had concluded they do not impact the safety,” of products.

“Of course he wouldn’t acknowledge the EFSA’s rejection at the conference,” Bob Peterson, VP of regulatory affairs at Tate & Lyle, told FoodNavigator.com. 

Meanwhile an Ajinomoto Sweeteners Europe spokesperson said “there is no truth or science in the allegations he is making… we’re talking about a piece of non-science.”

“Bad science needs to be called for what it is and excellent science will always trump,” they added.

Peterson noted that “industry is familiar” with Soffriti’s “frustrating” way of working; going to press first and avoiding standard procedure.

Irresponsible scaremongering

Regrettably, Soffritti has chosen to “cause alarm by discussing the results of his discredited research at a conference that is focused on helping the parents and families of vulnerable and sick children,” Frances Hunt, secretary general of the International Sweeteners Association (ISA) said.

A spokesperson from the conference organiser, Children with Cancer UK, said that Soffritti had been invited by the conference committee, made up of independent experts - adding that “it is very common for unpublished data and research to be presented at conferences such as this.”

The Ajinomoto spokesperson said despairingly that “it’s about time the scientific community called out activities like this…Misinforming and scaring consumers is entirely inappropriate.”

Is sucralose safe?

In the conference’s Q&A session, Soffriti told attendees that his studies showed that drinking Diet Coke can be linked to increased mammary cancer in female mice. The International Sweeteners Association and the British Soft Drinks Association came together in condemning such claims linking low calorie sweeteners and the development of cancer.

A Food Standards Agency spokesperson said it would not be taking action following Soffritti’s presentation.

Sweeteners are a well-regulated sector across Europe, the FSA said - a point the Food and Drink Federation supported. “All additives, including sweeteners such as sucralose, are permitted only after very careful evaluation,” the spokesperson said, noting that the procedure is undertaken by independent scientific bodies that also consider whether substances cause cancer.

An acceptable daily allowance has been established by EU regulatory authorities for both sucralose and aspartame that ensure safe consumption without adverse health effects, they added.

“It is in everybody’s interest that, if any researcher considers they have new evidence demonstrating that a particular food additive causes cancer, they should submit it to EFSA for evaluation,” said the FSA spokesperson.  

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