Next month’s promised release of a new “full re-evaluation” of the sweetener aspartame is not going to happen until at least May 2013. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) asked for the extra time, and the European Commission (EC) — the governing body for the 27-country European Union (EU) — granted its request. EFSA originally planned to do a re-evaluation of aspartame in time for a 2020 release date. The EC asked that the work be advanced by eight years and released in September 2012. In a statement on the requested delay, EFSA said the additional time will allow for scientific experts to consider new data and compete a comprehensive risk assessment in addition to allowing time for a draft version to be circulated for comments before the new re-evaluation becomes final. Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that’s been involved in one of the longest running food safety controversies in history. The low-calorie sweetener is a popular table top sugar substitute and is used in beverages, desserts, dairy products, chewing gums, energy control and weight control products. EFSA last certified the safety of aspartame in 2009 in Regulation EU 257/2010. Since agreeing to move up its scheduled 2020 review, EFSA has issued a public call for scientific data as part of its “thorough literature review, ” and is now doing so again. EFSA’s Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources Added to Food (ANS) is well into the risk assessment. In the course of its scientific deliberations, the Panel has found that there was too little data available on 5-benzyl-3,6-dioxo-2-piperazine acetic acid (DKP) and other potential degradation products that can be formed from aspartame in food and beverages when stored under certain conditions. For that reason, EFSA is launching an additional call for data on DKP and other degradation products of aspartame. In the United States, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first approved aspartame in 1974 and then rescinded its approval until 1981. More than 100 other national regulatory agencies followed FDA’s approval, permitting aspartame for human use country by country. The first approvals for European countries also came in the 1980s. Yet controversy has dogged the product for the past 40 years. Unless the date is moved again, the review EFSA comes out with in 2013 will be its fifth. All previous works have attested to the aspartame’s safety. The aspartame product known as NutraSweet was ready to go in 1965. But it would be a long haul for Searle, the pharmaceutical company that did the research and development on aspartame before its own name disappeared through mergers and acquisitions. Aspartame conspiracies would drag Searle through grand juries and 60 Minutes with most making never proven claims about the sweetener causing cancer.