Aspartame, the most common of the sweeteners again under accusation? It is dangerous for human health, according to two researchers at the University of Sussex, who dispute the evaluation of EFSA (the European food safety agency) which in 2013 concluded that there is no convincing evidence that aspartame is harmful, thus confirming the possibility of use and marketing in member countries.
No new data, but after reviewing the 154 studies on the subject and the work of the European commission, British researchers object to the non-impartiality of the experts, who – as they say – would have used two weights and two measures in judging the admissibility of the studies for and against the sweetener, penalising the cons. For this reason they request the suspension of the authorisation granted and the start of an independent investigation.
Aspartame is a very popular sweetener, used in thousands of foods and drinks, especially those sold as sugar-free and zero calories. And it is certainly not the first time that it ends up under the magnifying glass of the scientific community. Some studies link the consumption of aspartame to the onset of brain damage, liver and lung cancer, neuroendocrine disorders, while others have not found any side effects or hazards and consider it safe .
The evaluation of EFSA
As with all chemical substances circulating in the European Union, aspartame has also been subjected to an evaluation by several expert committees. The last is the one issued in 2013 by EFSA, which took into consideration 154 studies on the subject, of which 81 did not produce evidence of danger to human beings, while the other 73 did. Only the commission during the work examined all 73 studies against as unreliable and therefore concluded that there are currently no reasons to ban the use of aspartame in the doses and in the manner provided for food.
In the article published in the Archives of Public Health , Erik Millstone and Elisabeth Dawson of the University of Sussex dispute Efsa’s judgment, believing that the commission’s behaviour was not impartial. The two researchers – they write – have re-analysed the studies and the review process implemented by the EU experts. In their view, the criteria used to judge which researches were reliable and which were not the same: the margin to consider a study as unfavourable to aspartame was much narrower than that for a study that did not reveal the danger. With the result – they argue – that all 73 studies against were deemed unreliable, while only 19 pros were excluded.
In short, Millstone and Dawson accuse the experts commissioned by Efsa of having somehow cheated , perhaps driven by economic interests or under external pressure, contesting the transparency of the entire review process (which always happened behind closed doors, they write). They consider the official evaluation of EFSA (and all previous ones) deficient , and launch an appeal for the authorisation of the use and marketing of aspartame to be suspended in Europe as in the United Kingdom “Awaiting an in-depth review of all evidence from EFSA, which satisfies critics and the public by demonstrating to operate in full transparency and in a responsible manner and applying a fair and consistent approach to evaluation and decision-making”.
Firmly rejects the accusations of lack of transparency of the evaluation processes of the European agencies Corrado Galli, professor of toxicology of the University of Milan and president of the Italian toxicology Society (Sitox), which we consulted. “It is part of my job to ascertain the safety of chemicals in products for human use, and as I also deal with aspartame, I can say that the toxicological data produced to date are sufficient and quite clearly support the non-hazardous nature of this sweetener. A conclusion reached not only by Efsa but also by Fao and Oms with the work of the Jecfacommittee (Joint Fao / Who expert committee on food additives)”.