PARMA, ITALY – Aspartame and its breakdown products are safe for human consumption at current levels of exposure, the European Food Safety Authority said Dec. 10. An E.F.S.A. panel concluded aspartame, an artificial sweetener, was not a safety concern at the current acceptable daily intake (A.D.I.) of 40 mg/kg body weight per day.

“This opinion represents one of the most comprehensive risk assessments of aspartame ever undertaken,” said Alicja Mortensen, chair of the E.F.S.A.’s panel on food additives and nutrient sources added to foods.

U.S. issues have involved aspartame. The use of artificial sweeteners may be having an effect on the sale of diet soft drinks, according to a Dec. 9 article in The Wall Street Journal. The article cited statistics showing store sales of zero- and low-calorie soft drinks dropped 6.8% in dollar terms in the 52-week period ended Nov. 23.

A petition asking the Food and Drug Administration to update its standard of identity for milk to include approved zero-calorie sweeteners drew opponents, some of whom expressed concern with the use of aspartame in flavored milk.

The E.F.S.A. panel evaluated original reports, previous evaluations, additional literature and data. The E.F.S.A. received more than 200 comments during the public consultation on the draft opinion that took place from Jan. 9 to Feb. 15 of this year.

A potential risk of aspartame causing damage to genes and inducing cancer were ruled out. The E.F.S.A. also concluded aspartame does not harm the brain, the nervous system or affect behavior or cognitive function in children or adults.

The E.F.S.A. examined three breakdown products of aspartame: phenylalanine, methanol and aspartic acid. The E.F.S.A. concluded the contribution of the breakdown products to overall dietary exposure was low.

Phenylalanine, an amino acid making up proteins founds in many foods, is known to be toxic at high levels. Methanol may be released by fruits and vegetables and is present in the human body. Methanol becomes toxic when exposure is extremely high, such as from consuming home-distilled alcoholic spirits. The body may convert aspartic acid, an amino acid found in proteins, into the neurotransmitter glutamate. High levels of glutamate may produce harmful effects on the nervous system.