Last week, Paris-based (RES) - Environmental Health Network - said it was taking advantage of the celebration of World Day for Prematurity to communicate to Minister Xavier Bertrand their concerns over the intake of aspartame during pregnancy, citing studies associating the sweetener with increased risk for preterm births.
RES argues that the prevention of all early and late prematurity should be a priority for the ministry and stressed the need to inform pregnant women about all risk factors.
As evidence for their concerns, the French campaigners reference a study published last year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition which found that pregnant Danish women who consumed at least four servings of artificially sweetened carbonated soft drinks per day were at a 78 per cent higher risk of preterm birth than women who did not consume any soft drinks.
And the RES scientists claim that since the publication of that research, several other studies have confirmed the health risks linked to intake of the artificial sweetener during pregnancy.
However, the Danish study was criticised at the time by the sweeteners industry.
Beth Hubrich, a dietician with the Calorie Control Council, an international association representing the low-calorie and reduced-fat food and beverage industry, said the research could “unduly alarm” pregnant women.
“While this study is counter to the weight of the scientific evidence demonstrating that low-calorie sweeteners are safe for use in pregnancy, research has shown that overweight and obesity can negatively affect pregnancy outcomes.
“Leading health groups support the use of low-calorie sweeteners in pregnancy. Further, low-calorie sweeteners can help pregnant women enjoy the taste of sweets without excess calories, leaving room for nutritious foods and beverages without excess weight gain – something that has been shown to be harmful to both the mother and developing baby,” she added.
April this year saw the European Parliament’s Environment committee pushing for a warning label on products containing aspartame stating that they may not be suitable for pregnant women.
On the back of the MEPs’ concerns and on a request for a thorough literature review, a re-assessment of the safety of aspartame is now underway at EFSA, bringing forward a scheduled re-evaluation of aspartame from 2020 to 2012.
EFSA recently told FoodNavigator.com that it asked the regulator for an extension of the review period until the end of September 2012 to allow enough time for the agency to conduct a full risk assessment of the sweetener “in view of the fact that a public call for data had to be conducted first.”
In response to the call for data, the Parma-based risk assessor said it has received more than 600 studies, including the 112 studies that supported the original application.
“We intend to put the draft opinion to a public consultation sometime in either spring or summer 2012,” added the agency.
At the time of the announcement of the review, leading aspartame supplier Ajinomoto displayed its confidence in the ingredient.
“EFSA reaffirmed the safety of aspartame in 2006, 2009 and 2010. In addition, recent allegations about the safety of aspartame made in France and by a handful of MEPs have already been dismissed by EFSA,” said the company in a statement.
“This review of the extensive body of science on aspartame will provide additional confirmation of the ingredient's safety.”