Aspartame, one of the world’s most widely used artificial sweeteners, is expected to be classified as a possible carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the World Health Organisation’s cancer research arm.
This is according to Reuters, which cited exclusive sources.
The IARC, which assesses the potential hazards of substances based on published evidence, will list aspartame as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” for the first time in its upcoming decision.
This decision pits the sweetener, which is used in popular products such as diet soda and chewing gum, against the food industry and regulators.
The ruling, which is set to be announced in July, has alarmed the food industry and regulators.
The IARC classification does not take into account safe consumption levels, which are determined by the Who is the separate expert committee on food additives, known as the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives, or JECFA.
The simultaneous evaluation processes of aspartame’s safety have raised concerns about potential public confusion.
Based on JECFA’s assessments since 1981, national regulators, including those in the United States and Europe, have previously endorsed the safe consumption of aspartame within accepted daily limits.
The IARC’s previous decisions on various substances have had a big impact, leading to consumer concerns, legal action, and recipe modifications. However, the agency’s assessments have also faced criticism for causing unnecessary alarm or confusion.
The IARC divides substances into four categories based on the strength of the evidence rather than the level of risk they pose: carcinogenic, probably carcinogenic, possibly carcinogenic, and not classifiable.
According to IARC, the first group consists of substances with strong evidence that they cause cancer, ranging from processed meat to asbestos.
Working overnight and consuming red meat fall into the “probable” category, which denotes that there is only weak evidence that these things can cause cancer in people but stronger evidence that they can cause cancer in animals or that they share traits with other human carcinogens.
The “radiofrequency electromagnetic fields” associated with mobile phone use are “possibly cancer-causing.” Like aspartame, this means there is either limited evidence they can cause cancer in humans, sufficient evidence in animals, or strong evidence about the characteristics.
“IARC is not a food safety body and their review of aspartame is not scientifically comprehensive and is based heavily on widely discredited research,” Frances Hunt-Wood, secretary general of the International Sweeteners Association, said.
The body, whose members include Mars Wrigley, a Coca-Cola unit and Cargill, said it had “serious concerns with the IARC review, which may mislead consumers”.