Court: U.K. chain may call sweetener 'hidden nasty'

by Jeff Gelski
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LONDON — ASDA, a 356-store supermarket chain in the United Kingdom, may continue on its packaging to list the sweetener aspartame as one of the "hidden nasties" that the chain leaves out of its own label products, according to a ruling made in the High Court of Justice Queen’s Bench Division in London.

The ruling from Justice Tugendhat comes in response to a lawsuit filed by Ajinomoto Sweeteners Europe SAS, a subsidiary of the Japanese multinational corporation Ajinomoto. Ajinomoto claims to have a 45% share for aspartame, a synthetic sweetener, in the European market.

In May of 2007 ASDA announced it would become the first supermarket in Britain to commit to removing all artificial colors and flavors from its own label food and soft drink products. Most of the products contain packaging that claim they contain no "hidden nasties" in the forms of artificial colors or flavors, aspartame and hydrogenated fat. The cola products’ packaging claims "zero sugar zero aspartame" but makes no reference to "hidden nasties."

Ajinomoto’s lawsuit said the packaging claims were false and malicious. Ajinomoto said the words on the packaging meant aspartame is harmful or unhealthy or potentially harmful or unhealthy.

Andrew Caldecott, counsel for ASDA, responded, "If that is what ASDA is saying about the products which do contain aspartame, and if it were true, then it would be very surprising that ASDA, or any other supermarket or grocer, should sell any products containing aspartame."

Justice Tugendhat wrote in his ruling, "The adjective ‘nasty’ is in common use, and it can mean anything from ‘unpleasant’ to ‘dangerous’ or ‘very bad.’ "

In ruling on the meaning of the words on the packaging, the judge wrote about the cola product, "If you the customer think that aspartame may be bad for you, or unpleasant to taste or consume, then this product is for you." About other products, he wrote, "If customers think that aspartame may be bad for them, or unpleasant to taste or consume, then these products are for them."

ASDA, which is owned by Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Bentonville, Ark., said it will renew its call for other manufacturers and retailers to also commit to removing artificial additives from food and soft drink products.

"Naturally, this is a sweet victory," said Darren Blackhurst, ASDA’s chief merchandising officer. "We’re in the business of listening to our customers, and they’ve told us loud and clear that they don’t want unnecessary, artificial additives in their food."

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