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Aspartame, sweetener found in most soft drink now termed carcinogenic: WHO


The World Health Organisation (WHO) is about to classify aspartame, a widely used artificial sweetener globally, as a probable carcinogen, forcing it up against the food industry and authorities, according to sources with knowledge of the process.

WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), said that aspartame, found in items like some Snapple drinks, Mars’ Extra chewing gum, and Coca-Cola diet sodas, will be designated as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” by next month.

The decision was reached by a group of external experts who assess whether products present a potential hazard based on all the published evidence, according to agency reports.

The IARC’s choices have occasionally come under fire for raising unnecessary anxiety.

Prior to this, IARC classified using mobile phones as “possibly cancer-causing,” similar to aspartame, along with eating red meat, working overnight, and working overnight, all of which are “probably cancer-causing” behaviours.

Aspartame Is Safe – Regulators

Its latest report does not take into account how much aspartame a person can safely consume. This advice comes from a body known as JECFA, an international expert committee on food additives administered jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN and WHO.

Aspartame, sweetener found in most soft drink now termed carcinogenic: WHO
Aspartame, sweetener found in most soft drink now termed carcinogenic: WHO

Since 1981, JECFA has said aspartame is safe to consume within accepted daily limits. For example, 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. Its view has been widely shared by national regulators, including in the United States and Europe.

Reacting, the International Sweeteners Association (ISA), whose members include Mars Wrigley, Coca-Cola, and Pepsico said it had “serious concerns with the IARC review, which may mislead consumers”.

“IARC is not a food safety body and their review of aspartame is not scientifically comprehensive and is based heavily on widely discredited research,” said Frances Hunt-Wood, secretary general of the ISA said.

JECFA is also reviewing aspartame use this year. It is due to announce its findings on the same day that the IARC makes public its decision – on July 14.

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However, the industry community and regulators worry that releasing distinct reviews would confuse the general public.

“We kindly ask both bodies to coordinate their efforts in reviewing aspartame to avoid any confusion or concerns among the public,” Nozomi Tomita, an official from Japan’s Ministry of Health, wrote in a letter to Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO’s deputy director general.

Aspartame has been extensively studied for years. Last year, an observational study in France among 100,000 adults showed that people who consumed larger amounts of artificial sweeteners – including aspartame – had a slightly higher cancer risk.

Aspartame is authorised for use globally by regulators who have reviewed all the available evidence, and major food and beverage makers have for decades defended their use of the ingredient. The IARC said it had assessed 1,300 studies in its June review, online agency reports.

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