On July 14, the World Health Organization (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the WHO Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) released results about the health impact of aspartame.
cancerThe two groups within the organization have come to different conclusions, with IARC stating that aspartame is possibly carcinogenic to humans and JECFA upholding the acceptable daily intake of 40 mg/kg of body weight, according to the organization.
IARC classified aspartame as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B) on the basis of limited evidence for cancer in humans (specifically, for hepatocellular carcinoma, which is a type of liver cancer). There was also limited evidence for cancer in experimental animals and limited evidence related to the possible mechanisms for causing cancer, the agency stated.
JECFA concluded that the data evaluated indicated no sufficient reason to change the previously established acceptable daily intake (ADI) of 0–40 mg/kg body weight for aspartame. The committee therefore reaffirmed that it is safe for a person to consume within this limit per day. For example, with a can of diet soft drink containing 200 or 300 mg of aspartame, an adult weighing 70 kg would need to consume more than 9–14 cans per day to exceed the acceptable daily intake, assuming no other intake from other food sources, according to the committee.
IARC’s hazard identifications are the first fundamental step to understand the carcinogenicity of an agent by identifying its specific properties and its potential to cause harm, i.e. cancer, the organization stated. IARC classifications reflect the strength of scientific evidence as to whether an agent can cause cancer in humans, but they do not reflect the risk of developing cancer at a given exposure level, according to the agency.
The IARC hazard evaluation considers all types of exposures (e.g. dietary, occupational). The strength-of-evidence classification in Group 2B is the third highest level out of four levels, and it is generally used either when there is limited, but not convincing, evidence for cancer in humans or convincing evidence for cancer in experimental animals, but not both, according to the organization. However, the IARC’s decisions have faced criticism for sparking needless alarm over hard to avoid substances or situations.
The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) responded to the separate announcements of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) regarding the safety of aspartame. Dr. Andrea Wong, senior vice president, Scientific and Regulatory Affairs, stated , “The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) first approved aspartame as a sweetener in 1974, and scientific evidence has continued to support the agency’s conclusion that aspartame is safe for the general population when made under good manufacturing practices and used under the approved conditions of use. Aspartame remains an approved food additive in the United States. Recent separate announcements from IARC and JECFA do not change or detract from FDA’s decision, which takes into account safe levels of consumption.”
Daniel Fabricant, president and CEO of the Natural Products Association (NPA), commented, “As we’ve said repeatedly, toxicology isn’t a political science. Unfortunately, whether it’s aspartame or titanium dioxide, we have agencies like IARC, with no responsibility, presenting themselves as scientifically authoritative when the first line regulatory agencies (like FDA and EFSA) have rendered an opinion that these ingredients are safe under normal conditions of use or those directed in the labeling and have been for decades, which is also apparent from the literature. This sort of messaging from IARC completely stifles any innovation and creates an unstable environment for everyone, but the trial bar uses these unscientific statements about potential for risk to gouge the marketplace, resulting in higher costs for consumers without any added public health benefits.”
IARC and WHO will continue to monitor new evidence and encourage independent research groups to develop further studies on the potential association between aspartame exposure and consumer health effects, the organization stated.
For more information, visit www.who.int.