* Studies have linked aspartame to cancer, premature births
* EFSA says one of most extensive assessments yet
BRUSSELS, Dec 10 (Reuters) - The artificial sweeteneraspartame - widely used in low-calorie soft drinks - poses nohealth risks at currently approved consumption levels, theEuropean Union's food safety watchdog said on Tuesday.
The finding by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)will be seen as a victory for companies such as The Coca-ColaCo., which uses aspartame in Diet Coke, Coke Zero andother products.
In August, the company took out newspaper adverts in itshome city of Atlanta to address consumer fears over the safetyof aspartame.
Studies have linked aspartame to health risks, includingcancer and premature birth, and have been blamed for a drop insales of diet soda in the United States.
But food safety regulators on both sides of the Atlantichave called these results into question, citing data gaps in thestudies and other concerns.
In its latest scientific review, Parma, Italy-based EFSAsaid it had found no evidence of safety concerns at the currentEU "acceptable daily intake" (ADI) level for aspartame of 40milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) of body weight.
"This opinion represents one of the most comprehensive riskassessments of aspartame ever undertaken," Alicja Mortensen,chairwoman of EFSA's Panel on Food Additives and NutrientSources Added to Foods (ANS Panel), said in a statement.
"It's a step forward in strengthening consumer confidence inthe scientific underpinning of the EU food safety system and theregulation of food additives."
A can of diet soda usually contains about 180 milligrams ofaspartame, which means that an adult weighing 75 kilograms wouldneed to drink more than 16 cans per day to exceed the EU's ADIlevel. The U.S. ADI level is slightly higher at 50 mg/kg.
Aspartame is approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar andis also sold under the brand name NutraSweet. It was firstgranted EU-wide approval for food use in 1994 and has beensubject to several reviews by EU and national regulators.
- Consumer Discretionary