On 9 March, the online edition of the Daily Mail carried an article by Sean Poulter attacking the European Food Safety Authority and aspartame. Sean Poulter’s report was based on allegations by Erik Millstone who, true to form, ignores the scientific evidence and claims that the regulatory authority is corrupt.

As Sean Poulter knows:

  • Aspartame is made from two building blocks of protein and is digested to very small amounts of common dietary components. It brings nothing new to our diet.
  • As well as being approved by the European Food Safety Authority, aspartame has been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration, by the regulatory authorities in more than one hundred countries, including by governments of the EU member states, and by experts of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organisation.

Erik Millstone has no medical or scientific qualification but is a doctor of philosophy. He seems to be obsessed with aspartame:

  • In 1989, Erik Millstone was interviewed on BBC Radio Sussex and made allegations about the ingredient’s safety. The NutraSweet Company, the leading manufacturer of aspartame at the time, made a complaint to The Broadcasting Complaints Commission, who found in NutraSweet’s favour.
  • In 1990, the Guardian published a series of articles about aspartame based on erroneous information provided by Erik Millstone. As a result, NutraSweet issued a writ for libel and malicious falsehood against the proprietors of the Guardian newspaper. The Guardian subsequently paid NutraSweet a six figure sum in damages and costs, and in its statement in Open Court, the newspaper said, “(We) withdraw these allegations and offer (our) apologies for the damage caused by the publication of these articles and withdraw unreservedly all imputations.”
  • In 1996, Cambridge University Press used a text about aspartame by Erik Millstone in its book of practice tests for students of English as a foreign language. Following representations from NutraSweet, Cambridge University Press removed the text from all 15,000 copies of the book.

Although Erik Millstone claims that he is some sort of expert on aspartame, it is clear that he is not. His attacks on scientists and regulatory authorities, who have repeatedly and exhaustively reviewed the evidence on aspartame and have concluded that the sweetener is safe, would seem to be nothing more than a case of sour grapes.

By providing an excellent sweet taste without calories, products with aspartame can play a useful role in a healthy diet. At a time when overweight is one of our biggest health concerns, it is disappointing that the Daily Mail should attempt to unsettle its readers about safe and beneficial foods and drinks.

9 March 2013