Aspartame, one of the world’s most commonly used artificial sweeteners, will reportedly be declared a possible carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) cancer research department.
This sweetener is used in products like sugar-free sodas, sugar-free dressings, zero-sugar energy drinks, and sugar-free chewing gum.
It has been deemed safe to consume within accepted daily limits since 1981.
In 2002, the European Scientific Committee on Food ruled that aspartame, at acceptable daily intake levels, is completely safe. In 2006, the European Food Safety Authority also concluded that the established levels of acceptable aspartame intake were safe.
However, in July aspartame will be listed as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” by the IARC and WHO.
“IARC has assessed the potential carcinogenic effect of aspartame (hazard identification),” an IARC spokesperson told the Guardian.
“Following this, the joint FAO/WHO expert committee on good additives will update its risk assessment exercise on aspartame, including the reviewing of the acceptable daily intake and dietary exposure assessment for aspartame. The result of both evaluations will be made available together, on July 2023.”
Certain organizations have taken issue with the suggestion that aspartame could be cancerous.
The International Sweeteners Association (ISA), for example, includes Mars Wrigley, a unit of Coca-Cola, and Cargill. The secretary general of ISA, France Hunt-Wood, condemned IARC for informing the public about the potential risk factors, saying, “IARC is not a food safety body and their review of aspartame is not scientifically comprehensive and is based heavily on widely discredited research.”
ISA also said that it has “serious concerns with the IARC review, which may mislead consumers.”
Kate Loatman, the executive director for the International Council of Beverages Associations, also expressed concern with the IARC opinion, which could “needlessly mislead consumers into consuming more sugar rather than choosing the safe no- and low-sugar options.”
Certain regulators are also expressing concern that the IARC and WHO working separately on their investigations into aspartame will be confusing for the public.
Nozomi Tomita, an official from Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, wrote a letter on March 27 to the WHO’s deputy director general, Zsuzsanna Jakab, saying, “We kindly ask both bodies to coordinate their efforts in reviewing aspartame to avoid any confusion or concerns among the public.”
In the past, the IARC has faced criticism for causing public alarm after labeling other things “potentially cancerous,” including red meat and mobile phones.