Drinking Diet Coke? World Health Organization’s Cancer Research Arm Set to Designate Aspartame as 'Possibly Carcinogenic'

Aspartame - one of the most common artificial sweeteners in the world - is slated to be declared a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization's (WHO) cancer research agency next month, according to a report. 

Aspartame, one of the most widely used artificial sweeteners globally, is reportedly on the cusp of being classified as a potential carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization (WHO). According to inside sources cited by Reuters, the IARC will list aspartame as "possibly carcinogenic to humans" in July.

Aspartame's Sweeping Presence in Everyday Products
Aspartame, which boasts sweetness that is about 200 times more intense than traditional table sugar, is an ingredient found in an array of consumer products. Among these are Diet Coke, sugar-free variants of Ricola cough drops, and certain sugar-free versions of Extra chewing gum. The sweetener is also available for table use under various brand names, including Equal, Nutrasweet, and Sugar Twin.

The Objective of IARC's Ruling
The IARC’s anticipated ruling, which was apparently finalized earlier this month, is aimed at evaluating whether aspartame poses a potential hazard to human health. This classification comes amidst mounting concerns regarding the safety of artificial sweeteners.

The History of Aspartame's Regulation in the United States
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) initially greenlighted aspartame in 1974 for its incorporation as a tabletop sweetener and ingredient in a selection of products. Subsequent years saw the FDA expand its approval of aspartame, culminating in its classification as a general-purpose sweetener in 1996.

The FDA has, to date, maintained that aspartame is safe for consumption by the general population, barring individuals with a rare genetic disorder called phenylketonuria (PKU). The agency’s stance is based on its assessment that aspartame, which ranks among the most rigorously studied food additives, “is safe for the general population when made under good manufacturing practices and used under the approved conditions of use,” as stated on the FDA’s website.

The FDA also indicated that it keeps abreast of emerging scientific literature and engages in international scientific and standard-setting activities concerning food ingredient safety.

Parallel Review by Joint WHO and Food and Agriculture Organization's Committee
Alongside the evaluation by IARC, the Joint WHO and Food and Agriculture Organization’s Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) is also scrutinizing aspartame this year. Reuters reported that JECFA is scheduled to announce its findings on July 14, coinciding with IARC’s public disclosure of its decision.

Implications and Reactions Awaited
The impending classification of aspartame as a possible carcinogen by a prominent international health agency could have far-reaching implications. Consumers, manufacturers, and regulatory bodies worldwide will closely watch the announcement, which may trigger debates and potentially lead to shifts in the regulatory landscape and consumption patterns for products containing aspartame.
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