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Cancer: WHO To Declare Diet Coke Sweeteners As Carcinogens

According to exclusive sources cited by Reuters, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer research division of the World Health Organisation (WHO), is expected to classify aspartame as a potential carcinogen. Aspartame is widely used as an artificial sweetener in various products, including diet soda and chewing gum. The upcoming decision by the IARC will mark the first time that aspartame is listed as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”

This classification has created a conflict between the sweetener industry, regulators, and the IARC. The ruling, set to be announced in July, has raised concerns among the food industry and regulatory bodies.

It’s important to note that the IARC’s classification does not consider safe consumption levels, which are determined by the WHO’s Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA). JECFA has been endorsing the safe consumption of aspartame within accepted daily limits since 1981, as supported by assessments conducted by national regulators in the United States and Europe.

The simultaneous evaluation processes by the IARC and JECFA have sparked worries about potential confusion among the public. The IARC’s previous classifications have had significant impacts, leading to consumer concerns, legal actions, and recipe modifications. However, the agency has also faced criticism for causing unnecessary alarm and confusion.

The IARC categorizes substances into four groups based on the strength of evidence rather than the level of risk they pose: carcinogenic, probably carcinogenic, possibly carcinogenic, and not classifiable. The first group includes substances with strong evidence linking them to cancer, such as processed meat and asbestos.

Activities like working overnight and consuming red meat fall into the “probable” category, indicating weak evidence linking them to cancer in humans but stronger evidence in animals or shared traits with other known human carcinogens.

“Radiofrequency electromagnetic fields” associated with mobile phone use are classified as “possibly cancer-causing.” Similar to aspartame, this classification signifies limited evidence of their potential to cause cancer in humans, sufficient evidence in animals, or strong evidence regarding their 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”.

Kate Loatman, the executive director of the International Council of Beverages Associations, expressed concern regarding the “leaked opinion” about aspartame’s potential classification as a carcinogen. She emphasized that public health authorities should be deeply worried and cautioned that such a classification could inadvertently lead consumers to opt for higher-sugar alternatives instead of safer options with no or low sugar content.

Aspartame has been the subject of extensive research for many years. A recent observational study conducted in France, which involved 100,000 adults, revealed a slight increase in cancer risk among those who consumed artificial sweeteners, including aspartame.

The anticipation of the IARC classifying aspartame as a potential carcinogen is expected to trigger further investigations and assist stakeholders in making more informed decisions. However, this classification is likely to reignite debates about the role of the IARC and the overall safety of sweeteners.

The food industry argues that these substitutes can help individuals reduce their sugar intake, and they are particularly frustrated by the WHO’s recent recommendations against using them for weight control.

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