According to reliable sources familiar with the matter, one of the most widely used artificial sweeteners in the world could be declared a potential carcinogen by a prominent global health organization next month. This development has sparked a contentious battle between the food industry, regulators, and health experts.
The artificial sweetener in question is aspartame, which is commonly found in various products ranging from diet sodas by Coca-Cola to Extra chewing gum by Mars and certain Snapple beverages. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer research division of the World Health Organization (WHO), is set to include aspartame on its list of substances that are "possibly carcinogenic to humans" in July. This would mark the first time aspartame receives such classification by the IARC.
The IARC's decision is based on an extensive evaluation process that considers all available published evidence to determine whether a substance poses a potential hazard. However, it does not take into account the safe consumption levels for individuals. For specific advice regarding safe consumption, individuals should refer to the Joint WHO and Food and Agriculture Organization's Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) and national regulators.
Past IARC rulings on other substances have raised concerns among consumers, resulting in lawsuits and pressuring manufacturers to reformulate their products or seek alternatives. Critics argue that the IARC's assessments can be bewildering for the general public.
JECFA, the WHO committee responsible for reviewing food additives, is also currently examining the use of aspartame this year. The committee's meeting, which commenced at the end of June, is scheduled to release its findings on the same day that the IARC announces its decision, on July 14.
Since 1981, JECFA has maintained that aspartame is safe for consumption within established daily limits. For instance, an adult weighing 60 kg (132 pounds) would have to consume between 12 and 36 cans of diet soda per day, depending on the aspartame content, to be considered at risk. This viewpoint has been widely supported by national regulators, including those in the United States and Europe.
An IARC spokesperson disclosed that the findings of both the IARC and JECFA committees are currently confidential until July. However, the spokesperson emphasized that the two committees' conclusions are complementary, with the IARC's decision representing the first step in comprehending the potential carcinogenicity of a substance. On the other hand, the additives committee conducts risk assessments to determine the probability of specific harms, such as cancer, occurring under certain conditions and exposure levels.
Nevertheless, both industry representatives and regulators are concerned that holding both processes concurrently might cause confusion. Letters from U.S. and Japanese regulators obtained by Reuters express the desire for coordination between the two bodies to avoid any ambiguity or public concerns. The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, in a letter dated March 27, urged the WHO's deputy director general, Zsuzsanna Jakab, to ensure that the conclusions of both committees are released simultaneously. However, the Japanese mission in Geneva, where the WHO is headquartered, has not responded to requests for comment.
As the contentious debate over aspartame's potential carcinogenicity unfolds, consumers and industry stakeholders eagerly await the upcoming public announcements from the IARC and JECFA. The outcomes will undoubtedly impact the future use and formulation of products containing this common artificial sweetener.
Beverage Companies Defend Aspartame Sweetener
In the United States, major beverage companies, including Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, are pushing back against the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) examination of aspartame, a widely used artificial sweetener.
The American Beverage Association, representing these leading beverage makers, argues that there is a strong consensus among scientific and regulatory communities that aspartame is safe. Kevin Keane, the association's CEO, emphasized that food safety agencies worldwide, including the FDA, have repeatedly confirmed the safety of aspartame. Keane expressed confidence in the safety of their products and reassured consumers worldwide to have faith in their safety as well.
Concerns regarding the increased use of artificial sweeteners have emerged globally. Last year, a study conducted in France examined the medical records of 100,000 adults and discovered a slightly higher cancer risk among individuals who consumed larger quantities of artificial sweeteners, particularly aspartame and acesulfame-K.
As the FDA scrutinizes aspartame and its potential health risks, the beverage industry is steadfastly defending the safety of its products containing this artificial sweetener. The ongoing debate surrounding aspartame's safety has captured the attention of consumers and health experts worldwide.
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