Doubts have been cast over the reliability of the European Food Safety Authority’s review into aspartame, which found the sweetener posed no toxicity concern at current levels of exposure.

EFSA’s findings were this week opened up for a public consultation, but the watchdog is already facing questions about its research.

Dutch MEP Kartika Tamara Liotard filed a set of parliamentary questions to the European Commission after she noticed a high level of absenteeism among the study’s aspartame experts, with one meeting attended by just three of the 14 in total. “What message is the high absenteeism rate sending to the public?” she asked, and questioned whether the Commission had taken adequate steps to “ensure a reliable and serious investigation”.

The evaluation, which included a review of peer-reviewed literature into the effects of aspartame on humans, forms part of the systematic review by EFSA of all the food additives authorised in the EU before 2009.

Stephen Pagani from EFSA defended the study and the report’s reliability. “This work has involved the most comprehensive and thorough review yet of scientific information on this sweetener,” he said. “Our scientific experts have drawn upon all available information on aspartame and its breakdown products and, following a detailed and methodical analysis, have concluded in this draft opinion that they pose no toxicity concern for consumers at current levels of exposure,” he said.

Responding to Liotard’s concerns about absenteeism, Pagani added that since different members of a ‘working group’ may have different areas of expertise, they did not all need to be present for every meeting. Some meetings were simply used for editorial work, he said.