Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declined to ban the popular sweetener additive, aspartame, stating that it had found no scientific evidence that the sweetener causes cancer. FDA issued its response following two citizen petitions that called on the agency to ban aspartame as a food additive. 

The first petition, filed in 2002 by Betty Martini, founder of Mission Possible International, called on the FDA to recall “the neurotoxic drug, aspartame, masquerading as an additive.” The petition went on to classify aspartame as a “dangerous chemical” and “poison” responsible for numerous, deleterious health conditions, including seizures, tumors, and eye deterioration. A subsequent petition, filed in 2009 by Paul Stoller, M.D., asked FDA to invoke the “Delaney Amendment” and revoke its approval of aspartame. The “Delaney Amendment” is a clause in the Food Additives Amendment of 1958, which prohibits the use of a substance found to cause cancer in man, or after tests, found to induce cancer in animals, as a food additive.

FDA denied the two citizen petitions, citing lack of any “substantive scientific evidence demonstrating that aspartame’s use presents a public health risk or that this sweetener is adulterated or misbranded under the [Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act].” FDA noted that it had been monitoring the scientific evidence related to aspartame since the 1970s and found no reason to change its position concerning the sweetener. FDA also pointed out that purely “anecdotal accounts” in the petitions of adverse health effects with no identifiable causal link between the effects and the use of aspartame was not enough for the agency to ban the substance. Further, FDA did not know of “an established mechanism that would explain how aspartame is associated with the reported adverse events.” Finally, FDA noted that the safety of aspartame has been reviewed by not only FDA, but other “regulatory authorities” around the world, all of whom have found that “aspartame is safe for the general population except for individuals with phenylketonuria.”