EFSA is considering over 200 comments received during its online public consultation on its draft opinion on aspartame as well as key learning from a wide-ranging and constructive exchange with stakeholders at a follow-up meeting held today. This process has ensured that no stone has been left unturned and that the widest possible range of scientific views and information are considered before EFSA’s Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources Added to Food (ANS Panel) adopts its opinion. The results of the online public consultation and feedback from the meeting as well as EFSA’s responses to the comments received, will be published in a report together with the final opinion, scheduled for May 2013.
Speaking in Brussels after today’s meeting to discuss comments submitted during the online public consultation, Chair of the ANS Panel Alicja Mortensen commented: “We have learned a lot from this consultation and the opportunity provided by this meeting to better understand the comments submitted. We have seen for instance that we need to better explain why we include or exclude certain studies from our risk assessment as well as the uncertainties and limitations of some of the studies available. We will consider all the points raised today very carefully in the finalisation of our opinion.”
During the online phase of EFSA’s public consultation, the Authority received a total of 219 comments on its draft opinion. The majority of these were submitted by NGOs and members of the public with most others originating from academia, national food safety agencies, the food industry and journalists. Comments were grouped according to the following main topics: scientific aspects of the opinion; toxicity of methanol (a metabolite of aspartame) and formaldehyde (a metabolite of methanol); consumer exposure to aspartame; editorial changes; as well as related policy issues (for example, comments mistakenly directed at EFSA about the regulation of aspartame, such as requests to ban this sweetener which are not considered by EFSA given its role as scientific risk assessor).
Today’s meeting was attended by some 50 participants including representatives of national food safety authorities, EU institutions, consumer groups, NGOs, academia and the food industry. EFSA scientific experts and staff were also present. Following presentations by EFSA on its draft opinion, eight invited guest speakers gave short presentations on issues they raised during the online consultation and which then formed the basis for further discussions among all the participants. These issues included how EFSA’s experts select studies for its risk assessments, the safety of the metabolites of aspartame and how best to express uncertainties highlighted in the draft opinion.