According to exclusive sources cited by Reuters, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer research arm of the World Health Organisation (WHO), is set to classify aspartame, one of the world’s most widely used artificial sweeteners, as a possible carcinogen.
In its upcoming decision, the IARC, which evaluates the potential hazards of substances based on published evidence, will list aspartame as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” for the first time. This move puts the sweetener, found in popular products like diet soda and chewing gum, in opposition to the food industry and regulators.
The ruling, expected to be announced in July, has sparked concerns within the food industry and regulatory bodies.
It is important to note that the IARC classification does not consider safe consumption levels, as those are determined by the WHO’s Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA).
The simultaneous evaluation processes of aspartame’s safety have raised worries about potential confusion among the public.
Since 1981, based on assessments by JECFA, national regulators in the United States and Europe have previously endorsed the safe consumption of aspartame within accepted daily limits. However, the IARC’s previous decisions on different substances have had significant impacts, leading to consumer concerns, legal actions, and changes in recipes. Nevertheless, the agency’s assessments have also faced criticism for causing unnecessary alarm or confusion.
The IARC classifies 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.