(Updated January 2013)
Aspartame is an intense sweetener used to replace sugar in foods and drinks. In Australia and New Zealand aspartame is permitted at specified levels as an intense sweetener in a range of foods.
The safety of aspartame has been the subject of comprehensive reviews by FSANZ, the Food and Agricultural Organization/World Health Organization Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA). Scientific evidence to date supports the safety of aspartame for use as a sweetener in food.
JECFA established a safe level of intake, referred to as the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of 40mg/kg of body weight, for aspartame in 1980. The ADI is the amount of a food additive that can be consumed each day, over an entire lifetime, without any appreciable health risks.
In 2007, a study by the European Ramazzini Foundation (ERF) suggested that aspartame can cause cancer in rats at levels close to the human ADI. EFSA reviewed this study and released an updated scientific opinion in March 2009. EFSA concluded that based on all the evidence available, including the ERF study, aspartame did not produce cancer and there was no reason to revise the ADI for aspartame. FSANZ’s assessment of the ERF study agreed with EFSA.
In 2010, two more studies were released. The first, by Soffritti et al., (2010) from the ERF, shows that life expectancy in mice remains unchanged following a lifetime of daily exposure to aspartame. But the study also claims that the incidence of some cancer types at death is slightly increased among mice fed aspartame. The second is an epidemiological study by Halldorsson et al., (2010) which examines an association between the consumption of sugar-sweetened and artificially-sweetened soft drinks and the risk of pre-term delivery in Danish pregnant women.
EFSA evaluated these studies and in a statement on 28 February 2011, said they did not give cause to reconsider previous safety assessments of aspartame or of other sweeteners currently authorised in the European Union.
In January 2013, EFSA released for public consultation an updated draft scientific opinion on the safety of aspartame. The draft opinion stated that after comprehensively reviewing a large body of scientific data and studies, EFSA had concluded that aspartame and its breakdown products pose no public health and safety concerns for consumers at current levels of exposure.
EFSA also concluded that the current ADI remains safe for the general population and consumer dietary exposure to aspartame is below the ADI.
In December 2013 EFSA announced it had completed its full risk assessment on aspartame and concluded it is safe at current levels of exposure.
December 2013 EFSA re-evaluation of the safety of aspartame