The world’s top sweetener, Aspartame, is made with Genetically Modified bacteria.
The most widely used sweetener in the world, Aspartame, found in fizzy drinks and sweets, is being made using a secret genetic engineering process, which some scientists claim needs further testing for toxic side-effects.
The use of genetic engineering to make aspartame has remained ‘secret’ until now because there is no ‘modified’ DNA in the finished product.
One of the two elements that make up the sweetener can be produced by genetically engineered bacteria, and scientists say that they cannot rule out toxic side-effects.
But the Aspartame sweetener supplied to British food producers is not.
However, consumer groups say it is likely that some low-calorie products containing genetically engineered aspartame have indeed been imported into Britain.
“Increasingly, chemical companies are using genetically engineered bacteria in their manufacturing process without telling the public,” said Dr Erik Millstone, of the Science Policy Research Unit at Sussex University, and a member of the National Food Alliance.
MPs want the government to launch an inquiry to see how much US aspartame is actually coming into the UK.
Aspartame is made by combining phenylalanine, which is naturally produced by bacteria, with another amino acid.
To make the bacteria produce more phenylalanine, Monsanto has genetically engineered them.
“Whether such a contaminating compound will be toxic or not is entirely unknowable until empirical studies have been done to test toxicity,” said Dr. John Fagan, a former genetic engineer who now heads Genetic ID, the world’s leading GM test centre. “No such studies have been done, or at least they have not been placed in the public domain.”
Aspartame breaks down into three components – a methyl ester and two amino
acids: phenylalanine and aspartic acid.
The sweetener industry repeatedly pointed out that these compounds occur naturally in food and drink, yet that statement hid the complex science that makes each one is harmful to humans when found in aspartame.
In food, phenylalanine and aspartic acid are bound to other amino acids in long, complex chains of proteins so that they are not absorbed in a way that could cause damage.
But in aspartame they are not, and enzymes in the gut can easily split them apart.
Once phenylalanine is released in its free form, it is metabolized into diketopiperazine, a carcinogen. Aspartic acid in its free form becomes an excitotoxin, a toxic molecule that stimulates nerve cells to the point of damage or death.
The third component of aspartame, methyl ester, is the most harmful. It is metabolised by the body into methanol, a well-known poison.
In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency defines safe consumption of methanol as no more than 7.8mg a day.
Anyone drinking three cans of a drink sweetened with aspartame a day is consuming about 56mg of methanol.
A vast study conducted by the Italian-based European Ramazzini Foundation demonstrated that aspartame caused a significant increase in lymphomas and leukaemias, malignant tumours of the kidneys in female rats and malignant tumours of peripheral and cranial nerves in male rats.
These tumours occurred at doses that were well below the acceptable daily intake recommended by the regulatory authorities in the EU and US.