Expert Panel: Aspartame Sweetener Safe
No Cancer, Seizure, Obesity, Birth Defect Risk Seen in Aspartame Studies
WebMD News Archive
Sept. 11, 2007 - An expert panel says it's confident there's no health risk
from aspartame -- the artificial sweetener used in thousands of food
"We conclude aspartame is very safe," panel coordinator Bernadene
Magnuson, PhD, assistant professor of nutrition and food science at the
University of Maryland, said at a news conference.
Do the panel findings lay to rest all concerns over aspartame safety?
"We hope so," panel chairman William J. Waddell, MD, professor and
chair emeritus of toxicology at the University of Louisville, said at the news
Not so, says Michael F. Jacobson, PhD, executive director of the consumer
group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
"I think this review is totally unreliable," Jacobson tells WebMD.
"If you allow me to pick the jury, I'll tell you the result. This is a
committee made up of people incapable of finding that a commercial product
poses a risk."
The panel was convened by the Burdock Group, a consulting firm serving the
food, dietary supplement, and cosmetics industries. It was funded by Ajinomoto
Company Inc., a major maker of aspartame.
However, Ajinomoto did not choose the panel members. Panel members were not
told the name of the company funding the study until the study was submitted
for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.
"I have no qualms of who funded the study because of how it was set
up," Magnuson said. "We ensured there was no correspondence between the
panel and the sponsor, and we were free to make any conclusions we wanted. They
truly wanted to know the answer themselves and hopefully to have the question
[of aspartame safety] settled."
But Jacobson notes that the panel was highly accepting of studies finding
aspartame safe -- and highly critical of those linking aspartame to possible
"They say Ajinomoto paid for the study but researchers didn't know who
paid. Well, they knew it was industry. And some of these people are
longstanding industry consultants," Jacobson says. "You get what you
pay for. What we need are high-quality studies, such as those that could be
done by the National Toxicology Program."
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Aspartame Widely Used
Aspartame is found in the low-calorie sweetener Equal and in many other
sugar-free products under the brand name NutraSweet. It is the second
best-selling nonsugar sweetener in the world.
Just last June, an Italian research group led by Morando Soffritti, MD,
issued a warning that
aspartame causes cancer in rats. As it did when the Soffritti group
issued its first report, the CSPI petitioned the FDA to investigate
aspartame. The FDA has declined to act.
Now the Burdock panel has reviewed every existing animal and human study of
aspartame -- including a detailed analysis of the Italian group's findings. It
finds many flaws in the Soffritti group's work.