The Indonesian government is currently reviewing its laws on artificial sweeteners and will consider banning them from food if expert evidence suggests they present health risks, according to a report.
"We may remove artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, saccharin and cyclamate, from the Health Ministry's decree ... about allowable food additives," Husniah R.T. Akib, head of the country's food and drug authority (BPOM) told the Jakarta Post.
"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.
The three sweeteners are permitted in food in the European Union and Codex Alimentarius, a set of internationally recognized food standards, also recognizes their safety. However within the Asia-Pacific region, Japan has banned aspartame and cyclamate while Malaysia prohibits cyclamate.
The use of aspartame as a sweetener was first approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1981. But animal studies that were claimed to show a carcinogenic effect threw the sweetener's safety into doubt. These have however been criticized by several toxicologists and the EU food authority confirmed its safety last year. It is now the second most widely used artificial sweetener, after saccharin, contained in about 6,000 food products worldwide.
Both cyclamate and saccharin have also been linked to controversy, both banned by the FDA after studies linking it to cancer in animals but the FDA lifted its ban on saccharin in 1991.
The review in Indonesia is being carried out by the BPOM as well as the health and trade ministries and university experts. The food and beverage industry, the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and several consumer groups are also involved in the process, according to the report.
It is expected to be completed later this month.
"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 told the paper.
The BPOM has already approved the sweeteners acesulfame-K, alitame, neotame and sucralose.