Love it! Phoenix Organics and their ‘Think before you drink, aspartame’ campaign

December 31, 2007

Ok, I’m seriously excited about the mission and integrity of a big company. I was doing research on aspartame (bottom line, the stuff is REALLY bad for you) and I came across info on Phoenix Organics, Australasia’s largest organic juice maker. Phoenix launched a campaign urging people to find out more about aspartame. Aspartame is the widely used, controversial artificial sweetener in many ‘diet’ drinks and foods and beverages marketed as containing zero calories.

The company turned 20,000 bottles of Phoenix Organic Cola into mini-billboards carrying its ‘Think Before You Drink’ message, and highlighting the concerns that have been raised about aspartame.

Company Directors Stefan Lepionka and Marc Ellis said that the Phoenix team had become aware of the controversy that has swirled around aspartame since it was approved for use in beverages in 1983, when they started doing research for a Phoenix Organics brand campaign.

“Having read the Bressler Report of the FDA and other reports on the effects of aspartame, we had the living daylights scared out of all of us,” said the Directors.

“Internationally the evidence is overwhelming; There are thousands of people who claim that aspartame made them sick.

Our company has created a new section on it’s website containing links to New Zealand and overseas websites with information on aspartame and the 92 different symptoms noted in over 10,000 complaints received by the US Food & Drug Administration.”

Phoenix Organics has contacted a number of groups that have been fighting to raise awareness of the health concerns surrounding aspartame and said the company will do whatever it can to support the overall aim to have the Government restrict and ban aspartame.

“I applaud the efforts of the people who have battled indifference and hostility to have their concerns heard,” said Stefan Lepionka.

“People like Abby Cormack, who suffered for years before removing aspartame from her diet and completely recovering are banging their heads against official indifference and the power of the advertising dollar.

The Safe Food Campaign and The Soil & Health Association and others have been fighting for years to get action on this issue.”

“We are determined to lend our weight to this fight.”

Both Stefan and Marc agreed “there would inevitably be accusations leveled that the company was leaping on to the issue of aspartame solely out of commercial interest.

“If anyone takes time to read any of the very credible studies and research that cast doubt on the safety of aspartame, and is then happy to continue drinking and eating products that contain it, then that’s an informed choice. We may think they’re fools, but that’s their right.

Coca Cola has responded to media attention on aspartame by launching a website that reflects the official line on this highly controversial artificial sweetener.

“Its interesting that you don’t see anything about Coke’s multimillion dollar investment in a natural, non-caloric sweetener, called stevia. Coke uses stevia as a sweetener in its diet drinks in Japan and is trying to get approval to use it in the US and elsewhere.

Phoenix Organics is a brand that has always been about using natural ingredients and leaving science in the lab, not bottling it.

“We are committed to ensuring that the public is in an informed position from which to make their own decisions.”

This is not simply a marketing effort to get a little attention. Phoenix is the real deal day in and day out. They have a true passion for organics and a company-wide commitment to eco principles.

Phoenix produces 12 million bottles of drink a year – all in recyclable glass – from a purpose- built manufacturing facility. Its premium beverages are sold in 90 per cent of New Zealand’s cafes, as well as service stations and supermarkets throughout the country.

The company’s most important export market is Australia but its beverages are also found in 10 other international markets including Dubai, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Fiji, Rarotonga, Singapore and South Korea.

Phoenix was founded 21 years ago by husband and wife Chris Morrison and Deborah Cairns, together with Roger Harris, with a vision to create beverages that would be good for the planet and good for the health of its people. Their first commercial product was a naturally fermented ginger beer, made with fresh ginger, lemon juice and yeast, which is still one of the company’s most popular products.

Twenty years later, Phoenix is a multi million dollar business with six product ranges. CEO Stefan Lepionka says a key to Phoenix’s success has been its commitment to sustainability, which runs through every facet of the business. The company is outspoken in its opposition to genetic engineering and encourages its consumers to buy and behave ethically.

Paper, plastic and glass are recycled at the company’s premises, food materials are composted and rainwater is reused for cleaning and garden watering. The Phoenix factory is surrounded by native trees planted to offset carbon-dioxide emissions from the company’s vehicles.

“We are also constantly looking for ways to be more sustainable in our business activities. For example, we recently traded in our vehicle fleet to replace it with a more fuel-efficient one.”

Another recent initiative has seen the company switch to labeling made from renewable wood pulp, which is certified to international composting standards.

In 2007, Phoenix bought a bottling plant in Australia, significantly reducing the weight of both its freight across the Tasman (the juice is shipped in large drums) and, at the same time, its global footprint, says Mr. Lepionka. In other international markets, Phoenix works with established distributors to sell its products.

Phoenix buys much of its organic fruit from New Zealand growers with the balance – fruits that don’t grow in New Zealand such as mangoes, passion fruit and guavas – from other markets. The company has developed innovative cold storage systems to keep the fruit fresh for ongoing processing through the season.

Lepionka says the company buys as much of the organic apples and feijoas available in New Zealand as it can, ensuring commitment from its suppliers by offering premium prices and certainty of purchase.

“Our beverages are not the cheapest – reflecting the fact that we pay our growers at least a 40 or 50 percent price premium over conventional fruit. However, they are the most sustainable on the market and our consumers know that what they are drinking is pure, safe and made according to environmentally friendly and organic principles. That has bought us significant brand loyalty.”

In 2005, Phoenix merged with another premium beverage company, Charlie’s. Together, Charlies and Phoenix are growing rapidly with sales increasing more than 50 percent in the year to June 2006. Lepionka says the merger has bought benefits for both companies. “There is a similar culture in both Charlies and Phoenix – we are young, dynamic and don’t have a corporate culture. The sustainability values in Phoenix are being transferred to Charlies and both companies have increased their reach by joining distribution systems.”

Hopefully that distribution will bring them to the U.S. soon! In the meantime, check them out at their too cool website at


Good article on aspartame entitled ‘Sweet Lies’


The Bressler Report can be read here:

2 Responses to “Love it! Phoenix Organics and their ‘Think before you drink, aspartame’ campaign”

  1. John E. Garst, Ph.D. (Medicinal Chemistry, Pharmacology, and Toxicology) Says:


    You have been completely bamboozled by the antiaspartame critics. No established food authority or regulatory body in the world accepts their garbage, so why do you. Aspartame is perfectly safe used as directed in healthy people. The arguments you read from anti-aspartame critics are out of date and consequently wrong. Check the dates of all that stuff for confirmation. For example, the Bressler report is from 1977. If you want the facts read the full text Magnuson report at The only recent thing arguing against its safety are the Soffritti et al reports (2006, 2007) in rats and that work was rejected by Magnuson et al because his rats were sick. It will be shown this year that there is a serious and fatal scientific flaw in all his work that should make it all invalid. Without that and with a viable alternate explanation of all this garbage, there are no papers remaining to criticize aspartame.

    John E. Garst, Ph.D. (Medicinal Chemistry, Pharmacology, and Toxicology)

  2. annierichardson Says:

    Dear Dr. Garst,

    I appreciate your comments and I hear what you are saying. There are many respected scientists and medical professionals who agree with your position and claim that aspartame is not harmful. However, the issue is clearly not settled and, I believe, remains controversial at best. The sad reality is most people have been blindly trusting the so-called “food authorities and regulatory bodies” without being fully informed.

    I looked at the Magnuson study. A very interesting read, I will admit, but do you know that it was sponsored (paid for) by Ajinomoto Food Inc. (, a major manufacturer of aspartame? Of course Magnuson refutes any bias but come on…the company paying for the study is a company that makes aspartame. Is that really OK?

    I’ve also looked at the Sofretti (Ramazzini Foundation) study. Are you aware that a follow up study was conducted and concluded (once again) a link between aspartame and cancer? Following is a letter written to the FDA in June calling for a thorough review of the findings and consideration for revocation of aspartame approval. Please be sure to read the letter in its entirety, including the signatures at the end.

    It’s good to have a scientific view on the issues we examine here. Hope to hear from you again. Happy New Year! Annie

    June 25, 2007

    Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach
    Commissioner, U.S. Food and Drug Administration
    5600 Fishers Lane
    Rockville, MD 20857

    Dear Dr. von Eschenbach:

    An important new long-term animal feeding study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, from the Cesare Maltoni Cancer Research Center at the European Ramazzini Foundation of Oncology and Environmental Sciences in Italy raises anew serious questions about the safety of the artificial sweetener aspartame.1

    Dose-dependent increases in total malignant tumors, lymphomas/leukemias, and mammary carcinomas were observed in male and/or female rats. At the higher dosage level, the increases were statistically significant for lymphomas/leukemias in both male and female rats, mammary carcinomas in females, and tumor-bearing males.

    Nonsignificant increases were observed at the higher dosage for total tumors in males and females and for mammary carcinomas in males and at the lower dosage for total tumors in females, lymphomas/leukemias in males and females, and mammary carcinomas in females. Those non-significant increases would tend to elevate the dose-response trend.

    The new study follows up on a study from the same laboratory, but is more sensitive because the rats were exposed to aspartame in utero; in the earlier study the rats were not fed aspartame until they were 8 weeks old. In the new study, groups of animals were exposed from the 12th day in utero to aspartame at levels of 0, 20, or 100 mg/kg bw/day (mg/kg) administered to the pregnant dams and, after weaning, to the animals through their feed. The previous study used those and several additional dosages (4; 500; 2,500;5,000 mg/kg).2

    That study found statistically significant increased incidences of leukemias/lymphomas in both male and female rats, malignant schwannomas of peripheral nerves in males, and transitional cell carcinomas of the renal pelvis and ureter and their precursors (dysplasias) in females. Additionally, a few uncommonly occurring brain tumors occurred only in aspartame-treated animals.

    The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) reviewed the study and concluded for various reasons that aspartame was not demonstrated to be carcinogenic.3 While EFSA’s rationale may be debated, it must be reconsidered due to the results of the new study.To put the doses used in the study in context, consider that the Acceptable Daily Intake of aspartame in the United States is 50 mg/kg. The 20 mg/kg dose is equivalent to a 50-pound child’s drinking about 2½ cans of soda per day and a 150-pound adult’s drinking about 7½ cans of soda per day (assuming 175 mg per 12-ounce serving of beverage4).The higher dose is equivalent to about 12½ and 37½ cans of soda per day.5 The lower dose is something that about 5 percent of American teenagers actually consume.6

    Obviously, few people drink the larger amounts of aspartame-sweetened soda, but one must presume that lower levels of consumption would lead to increased, but proportionately lower, cancer risks. Of course, increasing exposure to aspartame is the fact that Americans are also consuming aspartame in powdered soft drinks, chewing gum, confections, gelatins, dessert mixes, puddings and fillings, frozen desserts, yogurt, tabletop sweeteners, and some pharmaceuticals such as vitamins and sugar-free cough drops.

    In comparison to most animal toxicology studies, the new study has three significant strengths. First, it used more than the usual number of animals per sex/dosage group (95 controls and 70 in each group exposed to aspartame, as compared to the usual 50), thereby increasing the sensitivity of the study. Second, the animals were monitored until they died a natural death (as long as three years), as opposed to most studies, which are terminated after two years (104 weeks). Rats at two years of age are very roughly comparable to people at “retirement age,” about 65, whereas three-year-old rats are more equivalent to people 80 to 90 years of age. Thus, the longer experiment sheds light on the effects of aspartame on “elderly” animals. Third, as noted above, the animals were exposed to aspartame during part of their fetal life (ideally, the dams would have been exposed to aspartame prior to pregnancy). In utero exposure reflects human experience and likely increases the sensitivity of the study.

    We recognize that the FDA discounted the reliability of the first aspartame study on several grounds, particularly because the sponsor did not provide all the desired data.7 Another reason was that transgenic mouse assays done by the National Toxicology Program did not identify problems. However, compared to such short- or medium-term assays and modes-of-action conjectures, chronic animal feeding studies are accepted widely as valid predictors of likely carcinogenic risks for humans: importantly, all acknowledged human carcinogens when tested adequately in animals are also carcinogenic, and many known human carcinogens were first discovered in animals. The FDA also noted that a recent large epidemiology study did not associate aspartame use with cancer. However, that study involved people who did not consume aspartame until they were over 50 years old, and measurement of aspartame consumption was imprecise. The present animal study is much stronger in those respects.

    In light of the new aspartame study, which extends and corroborates the finding from an earlier study, we urge the FDA to immediately commence a careful review of the new study. Considering how widely aspartame in consumed by young children, as well as adults, in the United States and abroad, it is essential that this review be done as expeditiously as possible. If that review confirms that aspartame caused cancer in the laboratory animals, the FDA must invoke the “Delaney amendment” and revoke its approval for the artificial sweetener.8

    Dr. Kamal M. Abdo. PhD
    National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (retired)*
    National Toxicology Program
    Bahama, NC 27503

    Carlos A. Camargo, Jr., MD, DrPH
    Associate Professor of Medicine & Epidemiology
    Harvard Medical School
    Massachusetts General Hospital
    Boston, MA 02114

    Devra Davis, PhD, MPH
    Director, Center for Environmental Oncology
    University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute
    Hillman Cancer Pavillion
    Pittsburgh, Pa. 15232

    David Egilman MD, MPH
    Clinical Associate Professor
    Brown University
    Attleboro, Massachusetts 02703

    Samuel S. Epstein, MD
    Professor Emeritus, Environmental & Occupational Medicine
    University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health,
    Chairman, Cancer Prevention Coalition
    Chicago, Illinois

    John Froines, PhD
    Director, Center for Occupational and Environmental Health
    University of California, Los Angeles
    Los Angeles, CA 90095
    Director, Toxic Substances, Occupational Safety and Health Administration
    Deputy Director, National Institute for Occupational
    Safety and Health

    Dale Hattis, PhD
    Research Professor
    George Perkins Marsh Institute
    Clark University
    Worcester, MA 01610

    Kim Hooper, PhD*
    Environmental Chemistry Laboratory
    California Department of Toxic Substances Control
    California Environmental Protection Agency
    Berkeley, CA 94710

    James Huff, PhD*
    Associate Director for Chemical Carcinogenesis
    National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
    Research Triangle Park, NC 27709

    Michael F. Jacobson, PhD**
    Executive Director
    Center for Science in the Public Interest
    1875 Connecticut Ave. Suite 300
    Washington, DC 20009

    Peter F. Infante, DDS, DrPH
    Professorial Lecturer
    Environmental and Occupational Health
    School of Public Health
    George Washington University
    Washington, DC 20052
    Director, Office of Standards Review
    Health Standards Program
    Occupational Safety and Health Administration
    U.S. Department of Labor
    Washington, DC 20210

    Daniel Thau Teitelbaum, MD
    Adjunct Professor of Environmental Sciences, Colorado School of Mines
    Golden, Colorado 80401
    Associate Clinical Professor of Preventive Medicine
    University of Colorado Health Sciences at Denver
    Denver, Colorado 80202

    Joel A. Tickner, ScD
    Assistant Professor
    Department of Community Health and Sustainability
    Project Director, Lowell Center for Sustainable Production
    University of Massachusetts, Lowell
    Lowell, MA 01854

    * Affiliations listed for identification purposes only.
    ** Please respond via Dr. Jacobson at 1875 Connecticut Ave., #300, Washington, DC

    1 Soffritti M, et al. (, accessed June 13,
    2 Soffritti M, et al. Env Health Persp. 2006;114:379-85.
    3 Opinion of the Scientific Panel on Food Additives, Flavouring, Processing Aids and Materials in Contact
    with Food. The EFSA Journal. 2006;356:1-44.
    4 A Coca-Cola website indicates that a diet soda contains 175 mg of aspartame.
    (, accessed June 18, 2007) Other web sites
    indicate slightly different amounts.
    5 The quantities of soft drinks would be significantly lower if dosages were calculated on the basis of body
    surface, as some agencies do, instead of body weight.
    6 Jacobson M. Liquid Candy—Supplement (Center for Science in the Public Interest, 2005).
    (, accessed June 18, 2007)
    7 FDA-CFSAN. FDA statement on European aspartame study. April 20, 2007.
    (, accessed June 19, 2007)
    8 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act §409(c)(1)(3)(A).

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