Sweeteners to be Reviewed: Indonesia

At one time I used to have a really sweet tooth and my doctor told me to cut down on all sugar. Good idea I thought at the time considering diabetes is on the rise worldwide, and besides, I didn’t want that!.

So I started using Saccharin to sweeten my tea and coffee. When you travel in Java there are so many delicious and sweet cakes (Kue) on sale in the shops and markets that it is hard to keep a sweet tooth in check!.

But it now seems that the inclusion of sweeteners in food products is being looked at by Drug and Food monitors. The government is currently reviewing regulations allowing the use of several controversial sweeteners in food products sold in Indonesia.

Govt may ban aspartame in food

The review, which forms part of a decades-long worldwide debate on use of three particular sweeteners — aspartame, saccharin and cyclamate — is expected to be completed later this month.

“We may remove artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, saccharin and cyclamate, from the Health Ministry’s decree … about allowable food additives,” said Drug and Food Monitoring Agency (BPOM) head Husniah R.T. Akib.

The review will receive input from the BPOM,the Health Ministry, the State Ministry for Cooperatives and Small and Medium Enterprises, the Industry Ministry and the Trade Ministry, as well as experts from universities and non-government organizations.

The food and beverage industry, the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and several consumer groups are also involved in the process.

“We are looking at the various opinions around the world on these sweeteners. If stakeholders and people believe those three substitutes are health hazards, we will ban them,” Husniah said.

“We, the regulators, don’t have any problems with the possible ban. The industries unfortunately will,” she added.

BPOM data shows Codex Alimentarius — a set of internationally recognized standards, codes of practice, guidelines and other recommendations relating to foods, food production and food safety — as well as the European Union and Britain still allow the use of the three sweeteners in food production and consumption.

In Asia, Japan and Malaysia do not allow use of the sweeteners. Japan bans aspartame and cyclamate while Malaysia only prohibits cyclamate.

“In addition to Codex Alimentarius, we also refer to world agencies such as the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the FDA,” Husniah said.

“There is no way can we do research on every one of the two million products in the country. We only monitor products available in markets,” she added.

University experts said studies on aspartame and other artificial sweeteners in Indonesia were rare.

The use of aspartame as a sweetener was allowed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States for the first time in 1981. This decision came under question, however, with the release of studies finding aspartame to be carcinogenic.

Cyclamate was discovered in 1937 and recognized as safe for consumption in the U.S. by 1958. However, it was banned by the FDA in 1969 when reports surfaced linking it with cancer.

Likewise, the use of saccharin has also been disputed. Canada banned it in 1977 after a study found the prevalence of bladder cancer in rats that had been fed large doses of the sweetener.

The FDA also imposed a ban, though lifted it in 1991.

“Doubts about aspartame among FDA scientists were overruled by the FDA’s management and it was given approval. Many countries soon followed suit and approved aspartame on the basis of the same flawed studies,” Roger Williams, a British parliamentarian, told the The Guardian on Dec. 15, 2005.

A 1996 review of past research conducted on aspartame found that every industry-funded study had said the sweetener was safe to consume. However 92 percent of independent studies claim one or more problems exist with its use, the British newspaper reported.

Other artificial sweeteners currently approved by the BPOM include acesulfame-K, alitame, neotame and sucralose, as well as natural substances such as isomalt, xylitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol and lactitol.

Source: Jakarta Post