Sweetener used in Diet Coke possibly causes cancer, WHO set to declare.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) is set to declare a common sweetener, used in products such as Diet Coke, could possibly cause cancer.
Aspartame will be listed as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” from next month based on the findings of the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
The decision was reached by a group of external experts who assess whether products present a potential hazard based on all the published evidence.
However, the IARC’s decisions have faced criticism for sparking needless alarm in the past. It has previously put working overnight and consuming red meat into its “probably cancer-causing” class, and using mobile phones as “possibly cancer-causing”, similar to aspartame.
Regulators say it is safe
Its latest report does not take into account how much aspartame a person can safely consume. This advice comes from a body known as JECFA, an international expert committee on food additives administered jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN and WHO.
Since 1981, JECFA has said aspartame is safe to consume within accepted daily limits. For example, an adult weighing 9st would have to drink between 12 and 36 cans of diet soda – depending on the amount of aspartame in the beverage – every day to be at risk. Its view has been widely shared by national regulators, including in the United States and Europe.
The International Sweeteners Association (ISA), whose members include Mars Wrigley, Coca-Cola and Pepsico said it had “serious concerns with the IARC review, which may mislead consumers”.
“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 Frances Hunt-Wood, secretary general of the ISA said.
JECFA is also reviewing aspartame use this year. It is due to announce its findings on the same day that the IARC makes public its decision – on July 14.
However, industry and regulators fear that publishing separate reviews could be confusing for the public.
“We kindly ask both bodies to coordinate their efforts in reviewing aspartame to avoid any confusion or concerns among the public,” Nozomi Tomita, an official from Japan’s ministry of health, wrote in a letter to Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO’s deputy director general.
Aspartame has been extensively studied for years. Last year, an observational study in France among 100,000 adults showed that people who consumed larger amounts of artificial sweeteners – including aspartame – had a slightly higher cancer risk.
Aspartame is authorised for use globally by regulators who have reviewed all the available evidence, and major food and beverage makers have for decades defended their use of the ingredient. The IARC said it had assessed 1,300 studies in its June review.
The Telegraph has contacted Coca-Cola for comment.