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Tuesday, 24 March 1987
Page: 1365

Mr DUNCAN —I address my question to the Minister for Health. Did the Minister read the disturbing article in the Times on Sunday of 8 March expressing the growing health concerns relating to aspartame or NutraSweet in the United States, especially in relation to pregnant women, children and people with neurological disorders? Did he see reference in that article to the conference being organised by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Brain Function and Metabolism in Washington on 8 and 9 May? Will the Minister ensure that an appropriate, qualified Government official attends the conference, especially in view of the recent launch of aspartame under the NutraSweet label in Australia? In the meantime, will the Minister restrict the wider use of aspartame in Australia until these health issues have been resolved?

Dr BLEWETT —I recognise the longstanding concern of the honourable member for Makin with consumer issues, both in this Parliament and in the work he did in that area in South Australia. I have seen the article to which he refers. I was not aware of that conference and at this moment there is no plan for departmental representation. I am informed by the National Health and Medical Research Council that each application for the use of these food additives is assessed for technological need and safety by the specialist food committee of the NHMRC. Recommendations by that Council are then referred to the States for implementation. Aspartame has been recommended by the NHMRC for use in a restricted range of foods in Australia-low joule foods, brewed soft drinks and carbohydrate modified chewing gum. It is used in that restricted area of foods. It should be known that people born with the condition known as phenylketonuria are not able to metabolise aspartame and so foods containing this substance are required to be labelled with the statement `Phenylketonurics: Contains phenylalenine', to warn this group of people. However, the NHMRC is aware of the concerns being raised about the safety of aspartame in the wider community. We are closely monitoring developments, particularly in the United States of America. We will follow the conference quite closely and I will inform the honourable member of any further developments.