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Last Updated: Friday, 5 May 2006, 12:43 GMT 13:43 UK
Q&A;: Aspartame
Sugar (BBC)
Aspartame is used as a replacement for sugar
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has concluded that aspartame is not linked to cancer, but what is this additive and how much can be consumed?

What is aspartame?

Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that is approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar, but with very few calories. It can appear on labels as E951.

What is it used in?

It has been used in soft drinks and other low-calorie and sugar-free foods for more than 25 years.

Why did the EFSA carry out this review?

There have been a number of reports questioning the safety of aspartame, but a review carried out in 2002 - of more than 500 scientific papers published between 1988 and 2001 on the safety of aspartame - concluded that the sweetener was safe at the intake levels recommended.

Then, in 2005 a further study published in the European Journal of Clinical Oncology linked the sweetener to the incidence of leukaemia in rats; and this prompted the EFSA to order an urgent review of the additive.

What did they conclude?

A sub-group of EFSA, the Scientific Panel on Food Additives, Flavourings, Processing Aids and Materials in Contact with Food (AFC), disagreed with some of the conclusions of the paper, and concluded that aspartame was not linked to cancer and the current intake levels did not need to be revised.

How much is safe to eat?

The European Commission's Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) has set the Acceptable Daily Intake or ADI (the amount of an additive that can be consumed every day over a lifetime with no appreciable health risk) at 40 milligrams per kilogram of body weight.

This is equivalent to 2,800 milligrams for an average British adult. For an average three-year-old child, it is about 600 milligrams.

An adult would have to drink about 14 cans of a sugar-free drink every day before reaching the ADI.

How can I tell if a product contains the sweetener?

Products containing sweeteners such as aspartame must be labelled "with sweetener" on the packaging close to the main product name. They must also carry a list of other additives and ingredients.

Sweetener 'not linked to cancer'
05 May 06 |  Science/Nature

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