use of its glyphosate-based weedkillers.
The IARC’s decisions have also faced criticism for sparking needless alarm over hard to avoid substances or situations. 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.
“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, the secretary general of the International Sweeteners Association (ISA), 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”.
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.
It followed a study from the Ramazzini Institute in Italy in the early 2000s, which reported that some cancers in mice and rats were linked to aspartame.
However, the first study could not prove that aspartame caused the increased cancer risk, and questions have been raised about the methodology of the second study, including by EFSA, which assessed it.
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.
Recent recipe tweaks by soft drinks giant Pepsico demonstrate the struggle the industry has when it comes to balancing taste preferences with health concerns. Pepsico removed aspartame from sodas in 2015, bringing it back a year later, only to remove it again in 2020.
Listing aspartame as a possible carcinogen is intended to motivate more research, said the sources close to the IARC, which will help agencies, consumers and manufacturers draw firmer conclusions.
But it will also likely ignite debate once again over the IARC’s role, as well as the safety of sweeteners more generally.
Last month, the WHO published guidelines advising consumers not to use non-sugar sweeteners for weight control. The guidelines caused a furore in the food industry, which argues they can be helpful for consumers wanting to reduce the amount of sugar in their diet.
Source – Reuters