Known as aspartame, the possible carcinogenic – meaning it’s capable of causing cancer – is used in numerous products, from Diet Coca-Cola to Mars’ Extra chewing gum.
According to reports, aspartame will be listed in July as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
The IARC is part of the WHO cancer research arm.
While the ruling for aspartame as hazardous has been finalised, the IARC does not take into account how much a person can safely consume.
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A separate WHO expert committee, known as JECFA (the Joint WHO and Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Expert Committee on Food Additives), is also reviewing aspartame use this year.
Since 1981, JECFA has noted aspartame as safe to consume within accepted daily limits.
For example, an adult weighing 60kg would need to drink between 12 and 36 cans of diet soda daily to be at risk.
Nozomi Tomita, an official from Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, wrote a letter to WHO’s deputy director general, Zsuzsanna Jakab, back in March.
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The letter read: “We kindly ask both bodies to coordinate their efforts in reviewing aspartame to avoid any confusion or concerns among the public.”
The conclusion of IARC and JECFA are to be announced on the same day, July 14, 2023.
Frances Hunt-Wood, the secretary general of the International Sweeteners Association, (ISA) commented on the recent investigation.
“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 Hunt-Wood.
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The body added there are “serious concerns with the IARC review, which may mislead consumers”.
The IARC noted it had assessed 1,300 studies in its June review of the use of aspartame.
IARC’s intention to list aspartame as a possible carcinogenic might motivate more research in the area.
Additional research could help agencies, consumers and manufacturers draw firmer conclusions around its use.
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