Aspartame is an intense sweetener added to low-energy or sugar-free foods. It is used in foods including yoghurt, confectionery and carbonated beverages.
The safety of aspartame has been comprehensively reviewed by FSANZ and other international organisations, including:
- Food and Agricultural Organization/World Health Organization
- Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA)
- European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)
- US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA).
All scientific evidence to date supports the safety of aspartame for use as a sweetener, however re-evaluation work is proposed. In November 2021 aspartame was listed on the JECFA Priority List of substances used as food additives proposed for evaluation, with the highest priority (priority 1).
The information and re-evaluation requested relates to:
- the Dietary Intake Assessment, and
- a Systematic Assessment of mechanistic data in context of overall carcinogenicity assessment.
In 1980, JECFA established an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for aspartame of 40mg/kg of body weight, for aspartame. 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 acceptable daily intake. EFSA reviewed this study and released an updated scientific opinion in March 2009. EFSA concluded that based on all available evidence, including the ERF study, aspartame did not produce cancer and there was no reason to revise the ADI for aspartame. After examining the study, FSANZ 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 claimed 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 December 2013 EFSA announced it had completed a full risk assessment on aspartame and concluded it is safe at current levels of exposure. The risk assessment involved a review of all scientific research on aspartame and its breakdown products.