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WHO poised to declare aspartame ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans,’ Reuters reports

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The World Health Organization’s cancer research arm is poised to declare the artificial sweetener aspartame as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” as early as next month, Reuters reported, citing two sources with knowledge of the matter.

Aspartame is used in products ranging from diet Coca-Cola to Mars’ Extra chewing gum and certain Snapple drinks. The move will be the first by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, or IARC, the news agency reported.

The IARC ruling was finalized earlier this month after a meeting of its external experts. The meeting considered whether something is a potential hazard or not, based on all the published evidence. It did not consider, however, how much of a product can be safely consumed; that advice is made by a separate WHO expert committee on food additives, called JECFA — the Joint WHO and Food and Agriculture Organization’s Expert Committee on Food Additives) — as well as by national regulators.

Industry groups immediately pushed back on Thursday.

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“Consumers deserve facts, and the fact is aspartame is one of the most widely studied food ingredients and has repeatedly been determined to be safe by global scientific and regulatory authorities, which is why the Calorie Control Council is gravely concerned about any unsubstantiated assertions that contradict this conclusion,” said Robert Rankin, president of the Calorie Control Council in emailed comments.

The IARC is not a regulatory agency, an ingredient expert or a food safety authority, Ranking added.

“Their sole focus is to find substances that could cause cancer, and they have classified things like aloe vera, low-frequency magnetic fields, and pickled vegetables as possibly causing cancer. Consumers want context and that is what’s missing from these misleading claims,” he said.

Kate Loatman, executive director of the International Council of Beverages Associations (ICBA), agreed.

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While it appears IARC is now prepared to concede that aspartame presents no more of a hazard to consumers than using aloe vera, public health authorities should be deeply concerned that this leaked opinion contradicts decades of high-quality scientific evidence and could needlessly mislead consumers into consuming more sugar rather than choosing safe no- and low-sugar options – all on the basis of low-quality studies,” Loatman said in a statement.

In May, the WHO advised people not to use nonsugar sweeteners for weight control, warning that they may increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and mortality in adults.

Shares of Coca-Cola Co.

fell 0.5% on Thursday, while the stock of Snapple maker Keurig Dr. Pepper Inc.

fell 0.7%.

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