Aspartame promotion again lacks independence

A public relations exercise that is currently responding to a 5% drop in sales of products sweetened with the artificial sweetener aspartame is once again misleading the public about aspartame safety, according to the Soil & Health Association of NZ.

Seminars to promote the artificial sweetener are being run by the New Zealand Nutrition Foundation and supported by Coca- Cola Oceania. Speakers are Dr Bernadene Magnuson, a consultant to aspartame manufacturer Ajinomoto, and celebrity nutritionist Nikki Hart.

“The New Zealand Nutrition Foundation is a trade sponsored organisation whose title belies its real purpose, to facilitate trade for its members. It frequently uses material from its similarly funded peers in the United States,” said Soil & Health spokesperson Steffan Browning.

“Dr Bernadene Magnuson is internationally known for her biased review and selective quoting of industry funded science, whilst ignoring the large body of independent science that reveals the adverse effects of aspartame. The review, which used a non-independent panel, was funded by aspartame manufacturer Ajinomoto. Magnuson is an industry mouthpiece, sponsored by heavy aspartame user Coca-Cola and its misleadingly-titled The Beverage Institute for Health and Wellness of The Coca-Cola Company.”

“Since when has any Coca-Cola product been useful in health and wellness?”

“Nikki Hart, who is actively promoting aspartame use in presentations in Auckland and Wellington, failed to mention an important study published in 2005 that was conducted over eight years at the University of Texas. This study reported a 41% increase in risk of being overweight for every can or bottle of diet soft drink a person consumes each day. She instead uses research from Dr Blackburn, another Coca-Cola and industry supported collaborator of Dr Magnuson.”

While aspartame consumption has not been independently and conclusively been proven to help with weight loss, some research shows aspartame and other artificial sweeteners induce carbohydrate craving, which results in weight gain.

“Unfortunately our own New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) with its trade focus also uses similarly biased reviews instead of initiating genuinely independent research. Maybe its NZFSA title should read New Zealand Food Sales Authority.”

“New Zealanders are ill from the use of aspartame and yet it remains available in ‘Diet’ drinks in many schools.”

An analysis by Walton in 1996 of 166 studies on aspartame showed that all of the 74 published industry-funded studies attested to aspartame’s safety, whereas 92% of the independently funded research identified a problem. This pattern has continued.

Aspartame is the most commonly used synthetic sweetener in “Diet” drinks and sugar-free products, but has been the subject of controversy ever since early research linked it to cancers and neurological problems. In New Zealand aspartame gained more prominence in May 2007 following publicity of Wellington woman Abby Cormack’s aspartame poisoning symptoms. Ms Cormack conclusively linked the aspartame in the Wrigley’s chewing gum and Diet Coke that she was consuming, to her severe health problems.

During presentations to the Parliamentary Health Select Committee this year in response to an 8,000 signature petition calling for restrictions and warnings on aspartame use, the Ministry of Health’s Elizabeth Aitken and New Zealand Food Safety Authority’s toxicologist John Reeve both agreed that there was a link between aspartame and some illnesses.

“The petition has not been acted on by the Parliamentary Health Committee which, apart from a thorough minority report by Green MP Sue Kedgley, took the NZFSA ‘yes minister’ information as adequate,” said Mr Browning.

“The New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) continues to claim that aspartame is one of the most studied substances in the world, yet conveniently brushes aside the fact that while all industry-funded studies do not show a problem, the overwhelming majority of independent studies do. The reason it has been so studied is because its use has always been controversial.”

According to Nikki Hart there has been a recent drop of 5% in the consumption of products containing aspartame due to the “anti-aspartame bombardment” last year.

“Thanks to the efforts of Abby Cormack, the Soil & Health Association, Safe Food Campaign, Phoenix Organics, the Green Party’s Sue Kedgley and other active consumers and NGOs, that is something to celebrate. Many New Zealanders will be the better for it and Nikki Hart would do well to be involved with promoting natural sweeteners like the herb Stevia,” said Mr Browning.

Following its motto; Healthy Soil, Healthy Food and Healthy People, the Soil & Health Association advocates the use of natural and organic sweeteners and an Organic 2020 free of synthetic food additives.


The global market for aspartame is around 17000 tonnes, worth US$637m (Leatherhead Food International)

For a referenced rebuttal of Dr Magnuson’s Ajinomoto funded science review;

Aspartame (951, Equal, Nutrasweet) is an artificial sweetener found in over 6000 products including diet drinks, sugar free products, dietary supplements, sports drinks and medications.

Aspartame has been linked to many health symptoms, including those expressed as ADHD, anxiety, depression, irritability, confusion, memory loss, insomnia, dizziness, migraines, cramps, abdominal pain, numbness or tingling of extremities, rashes, chronic fatigue, and sight and personality changes.

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