They are responding to a new study carried out by the European Foundation of Oncology and Environmental Sciences "B. Ramazzini" in Bologna, that suggests aspartame, when given to rats for an entire life span, could induce a rise in lymphomas and leukemias in female rats.
"With billions of man-years of safe use, there is no indication of an association between aspartame and cancer in humans," says the aspartame industry.
Approved for use across the EU in 1994, the sweetener has more than 200 scientific studies confirming its safety, add the suppliers.
Aspartame is used in over 6000 food and pharma products, with global demand currently standing at about 16,000 tons.
The long-term Italian study (published in the European Journal of Oncology)was conducted on 1800 rats (900 males, 900 females) over 30 years. In order to simulate daily human intake, aspartame was added to the standard rat diet in quantities of 5000, 2500, 100, 500, 20, 4, and 0 mg/Kg of body weight, say the researchers.
Treatment of the animals began at 8 weeks of age and continued until spontaneous death.
"A dose-related statistically significant increase of lymphomas and leukemias in female rats. This statistically significant increase was also observed at a dose level of 20 mg/Kg of body weight, a dose inferior to the accepted daily intake permittedby current regulations (50-40 mg/Kg of body weight)," claim the Italian scientists.
It is important to note that the doses of aspartame tested by the Italians were out of proportion to human consumption levels, responds the aspartame industry.
Some of the animals in the study were given the amount of aspartame equivalent to that found in 2,000 cans of soft drink every day, they add.
In response to the Italian study, Europe's food safety watchdog has asked its panel of experts on Food Additives, Flavourings, Processing Aids and Materials in Contact with Food (AFC), "as a matter of high priority", to review the new findings, in the context of the previous extensive safety data available on aspartame.
In 2002 Brussels Scientific Committee on Food reviewed all the original and morerecent data on aspartame. Both published and unpublished data, including all the information on genotoxicity and carcinogenicity in animals and humans, were considered at that time.
The SCF re-confirmed the previously established Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for aspartame.
"As soon as all the data have been provided to EFSA by the institute in Bologna, including full pathology reports which are still in preparation, the panel will start its evaluation," said the European Food Safety Authority.
Adding it "does not consider it appropriate to suggest any change in consumers' diets relative to aspartame on the basis of the information it currently has."
Leading aspartame supplier Ajinomoto said it welcomed the decision by EFSA "to review objectively the claims made by the Ramazzini Foundation."