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Cancer fears over sweetener in food
An artificial sweetener found in 6,000 types of food, drink and medicines should be banned, an MP urged last night.
Politicians were warned of 'compelling and reliable' evidence that aspartame can cause cancer.
The controversial additive is found in a huge number of popular products such as cola, cereal and chocolate.
Roger Williams, a member of the parliamentary select committee on food and the environment and Liberal Democrat MP, said any items containing aspartame should be withdrawn from sale.
His comments came after research published by the European Ramazzini Foundation in Italy over the summer linked aspartame to cancer in rats.
Leading scientists last night joined Mr Williams in calling for products containing it to be taken off the shelves.
"There is strong scientific evidence that the components of aspartame and their metabolites can cause very serious toxic effects on humans," Mr Williams said.
Aspartame is also found in chewing gum, yoghurt, and coffee sweetener.
It is consumed on average every day by one in 15 people around the world.
Mr Williams told the Commons the additive was potentially 'far more dangerous' than Sudan 1, the banned food dye linked to cancer and found in some products in
Britain earlier this year. He claimed aspartame was found in ten times more products.
A debate on its safety had been repressed since the early 1980s with the help of the sweetener industry's legal teams, he claimed.
In 1996 a review of aspartame research showed every industryfunded study had found the additive safe.
However 92 per cent of independent studies identified some problems with its safety.
Mr Williams also told how in 1977 Donald Rumsfeld, the U.S. defence secretary and former head of Searle, the company that discovered the sweetener, publicly stated he would "call in his markers" to win a licence for the product. "The history of aspartame's approval is littered with examples showing that if key decision makers found against aspartame's safety, they were discredited or replaced with industry sympathisers, who were recompensed with lucrative jobs," Mr Williams added.
Responding for the Government, Public Health Minister Caroline Flint said an independent review of aspartame had been conducted in 2001.
She said the Food Standards Agency advice remained that aspartame is safe for use in food.
"I am advised that aspartame does not cause cancer," she said.
But Erik Millstone, professor of science policy at the University of Sussex, remained unconvinced. "There are sufficient grounds for banning aspartame. There are serious problems about how it was approved," he said.
The Italian research, which was published in July, showed disturbing results.
The European Ramazzini Foundation study found the incidence of cancer in female rats rose in direct relation to the dose of the sweetener they were given.
"In our experimental conditions, it has been demonstrated, for the first time, that aspartame causes a dose-related statistically significant increase in lymphomas and leukaemias in females at levels very near those to which humans can be exposed," their report said.
The scientists suggested the cancer could be triggered by chemicals created by aspartame as it is broken down in the body. Thousands of food products were withdrawn this year in a recall costing an estimated £100million because of contamination with banned food dye Sudan 1, which has been linked to cancer.
In 2002, scientists identified a cancer-causing chemical in a huge range of processed foods.
British experts found 'significant levels' of acrylamide in staples such as potatoes, crisps, crispbreads and breakfast cereals eaten by millions every day.
Last year scientists also questioned the safety of Scottish farmed salmon. They claimed it should be eaten no more than three times a year after discovering that the feed used in the fish farms was linked to cancer and birth defects.
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