Aspartame, a commonly used artificial sweetener, is set to be declared as potentially cancerous next month.
The sources revealed that a leading global health body will list aspartame in July as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” for the first time by the World Health Organization‘s (WHO) cancer research arm, International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
Aspartame is used in a number of products, including Coca-Cola diet soda, Müller Light yogurts, Mars’ Extra chewing gum and more.
The IARC ruling, finalised earlier this month, is intended to assess whether something is a potential hazard or not, based on all the published evidence.
The ruling, however, does not take into account how much of a product a person can safely consume. This advice for individuals comes from a separate WHO expert committee on food additives, known as JECFA (the Joint WHO and Food and Agriculture Organization’s Expert Committee on Food Additives), as well as determinations from national regulators.
JECFA is also reviewing the use of aspartame, and it is due to announce its findings on the same day that the IARC announces its decision to the public, on 14 July.
Since 1981, JECFA has said aspartame is safe to consume within accepted daily limits. An adult weighing 60 kg (132 pounds) would have to drink between 12 and 36 cans of diet soda – depending on the amount of aspartame in the beverage – every day to be at risk.
An IARC spokesperson told Reuters that both the IARC and JECFA committees’ findings were confidential until July, but that they were “complementary” with IARC’s conclusion representing “the first fundamental step to understand carcinogenicity”.
Secretary general of the International Sweeteners Association, Frances Hunt-Wood, told FoodBev: “IARC is not a food safety body. The World Health Organization’s JECFA is currently conducting a comprehensive food safety review of aspartame, and no conclusions can be drawn until both reports are published.”
“Aspartame is one of the most thoroughly researched ingredients in history, with over 90 food safety agencies across the globe declaring it is safe, including the European Food Safety Authority, which conducted the most comprehensive safety evaluation of aspartame to date.”
An observational study in France among 100,000 adults from last year showed that artificial sweeteners (especially aspartame and acesulfame-K) were associated with increased cancer risk.
Listing aspartame as a possible carcinogen is intended to motivate more research, said the sources close to the IARC.
The news comes a month after WHO published guidelines advising consumers not to use non-sugar sweeteners for weight control.
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