As the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) received data from the Ramazzini Institute of Bologna yesterday (19 December) over the safety of aspartame, lobby group the Calorie Control Council spoke out in defence of sweetener.

The Ramazzini Institute published research in June linking the regular consumption of the artificial sweetener aspartame with cancer in rats. The EFSA has been awaiting the primary data required to carry out a risk assessment on the substance since that date.

However, the Calorie Council, an international organisation representing the low-calorie and reduced-fat food and beverage industry refuted the Ramazzini findings, informing just-food that it considered aspartame entirely safe.

"Aspartame is one of the most thoroughly studied food ingredients ever, with more than 200 scientific studies confirming its safety. The Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) of the World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization, the Scientific Committee on Food of the European Commission (SCF), the UK Food Standards Agency, the US Food & Drug Administration and regulatory agencies in more than 100 countries have reviewed aspartame and found it to be safe for use," the council said.

In a letter to the editor, the council drew into question the scientific credibility of the Ramazzini research. "The design and execution of the study did not follow international guidelines for such studies," the council argued, adding, "Ramazzini researchers did not follow internationally established protocols for evaluation of animal carcinogenicity study findings."

The  EFSA's Scientific Panel on Food Additives, Flavorings, Processing Aids and
Materials in Contact with Food (AFC) will assess the controversial study within the context of previous research into the safety of the sweetener. It is likely that it will take three to five months for the AFC to complete the evaluation.