The artificial sweetener aspartame widely used in
low-calorie soft drinks poses no health risks at currently approved consumption
levels, the European Union's food safety watchdog said.
The finding by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)
will be seen as a victory for companies such as The Coca-Cola Co, which uses
aspartame in Diet Coke, Coke Zero and other products.
In August, the company took out newspaper adverts in its
home city of Atlanta to address consumer fears over the safety of aspartame.
Studies have linked aspartame to health risks, including
cancer and premature birth, and have been blamed for a drop in sales of diet
soda in the United States.
But food safety regulators on both sides of the Atlantic
have called these results into question, citing data gaps in the studies and
In its latest scientific review, Parma, Italy-based EFSA
said it had found no evidence of safety concerns at the current EU
"acceptable daily intake" (ADI) level for aspartame of 40 milligrams
per kilogram (mg/kg) of body weight.
Strengthening consumer confidence
"This opinion represents one of the most comprehensive
risk assessments of aspartame ever undertaken," Alicja Mortensen,
chairwoman of EFSA's Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources Added to
Foods (ANS Panel), said in a statement.
"It's a step forward in strengthening consumer
confidence in the scientific underpinning of the EU food safety system and the
regulation of food additives."
A can of diet soda usually contains about 180 milligrams of
aspartame, which means that an adult weighing 75 kilograms would need to drink
more than 16 cans per day to exceed the EU's ADI level. The US ADI level is
slightly higher at 50 mg/kg.
Aspartame is approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar and
is also sold under the brand name NutraSweet.
It was first granted
EU-wide approval for food use in 1994 and has been subject to several reviews
by EU and national regulators.(Picture: Aspartame from Shutterstock)