PH food biz group: No aspartame in our products
A group of food manufacturers and exporters said on Friday that its products have no aspartame, the low-calorie sweetener which the World Health Organization (WHO) has classified as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
The Philippine Food Processors and Exporters Organization Inc. (Philfoodex), which counts more than 100 member companies in the food manufacturing industry, said it is “not affected” by the WHO advisory also on Friday since its “members are not using this carcinogenic [sic].” A carcinogen refers to any cancer-causing substance or agent.
“We only use sugar cane but they are expensive compared to the sweeteners used by our Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) neighbors,” Philfoodex president Ruben See said in a message sent to the Inquirer when reached for comment.
Philfoodex includes big names, such as Goldilocks, Century Pacific and Monde Nissin; and popular brands, such as ChocoVron shortbread, Markenburg marshmallows and Lily’s peanut butter, among others.
The Philippine Chamber of Food Manufacturers Inc., whose members include the Philippine units of beverage giants Coca-Cola and PepsiCo Inc., was also reached for comment but had yet to reply.
On their respective websites, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo said their diet soda brands Coca-Cola Zero and Pepsi Zero use aspartame.
Aspartame, which is about 200 times sweeter than table sugar, is also found in chewing gum, gelatin, ice cream, dairy products, such as yogurt and breakfast cereals, and even in toothpaste, cough drops and chewable vitamins.
But Francesco Branca, the WHO’s nutrition and food safety director, said: “We’re not advising companies to withdraw products, nor are we advising consumers to stop consuming altogether.”
“We’re just advising for a bit of moderation,” he told a press conference in Geneva which presented two reviews by the WHO of the available evidence on aspartame.
The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) carried out its first-ever evaluation of the carcinogenicity of aspartame at a meeting in Lyon, France, from June 6 to June 13.
IARC placed the sweetener under category Group 2B, based on limited evidence concerning hepatocellular carcinoma—a type of liver cancer.
Group 2B also contains extract of aloe vera and caffeic acid found in tea and coffee, said Paul Pharoah, a professor of cancer epidemiology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California.
But he added: “The general public should not be worried about the risk of cancer associated with a chemical classed as Group 2B.”
9 to 14 cans a day
A second group, the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (Jecfa), met in Geneva, Switzerland, from June 27 to July 6 to evaluate the risks associated with aspartame.
The group, formed by the WHO and fellow UN agency the Food and Agriculture Organization, said its data indicated no reason to change the acceptable daily intake (ADI)—established in 1981—of zero to 40 milligrams of aspartame per kilogram of body weight.
With a can of sugar-free soft drink typically containing 200 mg or 300 mg of aspartame sweetener, an adult weighing 70 kilograms would therefore need to consume more than nine to 14 cans per day to exceed the ADI, assuming no additional aspartame intake from other sources.
“The problem is for high consumers,” Branca said. “Somebody who drinks a soda every once in a while … shouldn’t have a concern.”
“Jecfa has once again reaffirmed aspartame’s safety after conducting a thorough, comprehensive and scientifically rigorous review,” said Frances Hunt-Wood, chief of the International Sweeteners Association, which said earlier the Group 2B classification puts aspartame in the same category as kimchi and other pickled vegetables.
But for Camille Dorioz, campaign manager at the consumer organization Foodwatch, Friday’s update leaves a “bitter taste.”
“A possibly carcinogenic sweetener has no place in our food and drink,” he said.
—WITH A REPORT FROM INQUIRER RESEARCH