Sweeteners and all other food additives are tightly regulated and may only be used once their safety has been rigorously assessed.
Aspartame was first approved in the UK in 1982 following the review of its safety by the UK's Committee on Toxicity, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT), a committee of independent experts that advises the Government on the safety of food chemicals. This was reaffirmed in 1988 by the European Commission's former Scientific Committee on Food (SCF).
Following the publication of a number of anecdotal reports, which cast doubt on the safety of this sweetener, the SCF reviewed more than 500 papers published in the scientific literature between 1988 and 2001 on the safety of aspartame, including studies supporting the safety of aspartame and others pointing to potential adverse effects, which concluded, in 2002, that there was no evidence to suggest a need to revise the outcome of their earlier risk assessment or the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) previously established for aspartame of 40 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day (40 mg/kg bw/day).
A study published by the Ramazzini Foundation in Bologna, Italy, in July 2005 claimed to have shown that rats given dosages of aspartame equivalent to the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) may develop tumours. EFSA assessed the study and raised a number of concerns regarding it. They concluded, that ‘there is no need to further review the safety of aspartame nor to revise the previously established ADI'.
The FSA supported the conclusions of EFSA's review but reiterated that all approvals of food additives should be kept under review as and when new scientific information becomes available. Indeed, as part of its systematic re-evaluation of all food additives, EFSA has re-evaluated the safety of aspartame (see External sites box). As a result, it concluded in December 2013 that 'aspartame and its breakdown products are safe for human consumption at current levels of exposure'.