A leading Kiwi food campaigner has slammed calls to increase the limit of a sweetener - which health advocates claim is linked to kidney and liver problems - in popular chewing gum brands.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) wants to more than double the maximum permitted level for the sweetener Acesulfame potassium in chewing gum, from 2000 mg/kg to 5000 mg/kg.

The sweetener contains methylene chloride. Health advocates claim long-term exposure to the substance can cause nausea, headaches, impairment of the kidneys and liver and even cancer.

FSANZ say Acesulfame potassium - which is contained in more than 4000 food and beverages - is safe. Numerous studies from the US Food and Drug Administration had also ruled it was safe.


But Consumer New Zealand board member Sue Kedgley yesterday branded the proposal to increase the limit as "ludicrous".

"Consumers would be wise to avoid all artificial sweeteners, and chewing gum for that matter," she said.

"People chew gum a lot and because it mixes with saliva, the sweeteners are absorbed into the body quickly. FSANZ has an extremely permissive stance to these sweeteners. It should be lowering levels, not increasing them.

"Anyone who uses chewing gum should look up the ingredients. Acesulfame is one of the most controversial ingredients in the food supply."

Acesulfame potassium is almost 200 times sweeter than sugar.

After researching the additive, Washington-based consumer watchdog, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, advised consumers to avoid food containing it.

Steve McCutcheon, chief executive of FSANZ, insisted the proposed limits would bring New Zealand in line with countries such as Canada and Japan.

"We have conducted a thorough safety assessment, including a dietary exposure assessment, and concluded there are no public health and safety issues associated with increasing the limit."

Submissions to FSANZ for the proposed increase close on October 1.

There was controversy over sweeteners in chewing gum in New Zealand in 2007 when Wellington woman Abby Cormack petitioned Parliament's Health Select Committee calling for restrictions of the sweetener aspartame.

Cormack, who chewed four packs of sugar-free gum a day and drank large quantities of diet soft drink, reported dizziness, tingling, insomnia, paranoia and other problems which she said ended when she quit aspartame.

The committee did not agree to her request but, in a minority report, the Green Party called for warning labels to highlight the chemical's "potential adverse effects".