The European Food Standards Agency has renewed its request (first made in June and confirmed in September), that the authors of a study carried out on aspartame by the Ramazzini Institute of Bologna, provide EFSA with the primary data required to carry out a risk assessment on this substance.

The institute’s study linked aspartame to cancer in rats.

Following initial discussions with the Ramazzini Institute (prior to the publication of this study) in June 2005, EFSA published a statement indicating that the Scientific Panel on Food Additives, Flavourings, Processing Aids and Materials in Contact with Food (AFC) would review the significance of the new findings in the context of the extensive safety data already available on aspartame.

Whilst the panel is ready to start this evaluation as a matter of high priority, work cannot commence without the new data which are yet to be received,  EFSA said.

The panel expects that it could take three to five months to carry out the risk assessment following receipt of the data. Based on current evidence on the safety of aspartame, EFSA does not recommend that consumers who wish to choose foods containing aspartame make any changes to their dietary habits. In a second letter sent to Morando Soffritti, scientific director of the Ramazzini Institute, Dr Herman Koëter, acting executive director of the European Food Safety Authority, has reiterated EFSA’s request for the primary data so that the AFC Panel may undertake the risk assessment on aspartame as soon as possible.

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At its meeting of 25 November, EFSA’s Advisory Forum further stressed the importance of updating scientific advice on the safety of aspartame, a need also confirmed by the European Commission.