Common Artificial Sweetener Set To Be Declared Possible Carcinogen

After years of health and diet experts speaking out against the harmful effects of artificial sweeteners, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) cancer research arm is expected to label one of the most common artificial sweeteners — aspartame — as a possible carcinogen.

The WHO issued a statement to Fortune about the decision, revealing that the International Agency for Research on Cancer has “assessed the potential carcinogenic effect of aspartame. Following this, the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) will update its risk assessment exercise on aspartame, including the reviewing of the acceptable daily intake and dietary exposure assessment for aspartame.”

However, the report stated that only limited evidence exists to suggest that aspartame is a cancer-causing agent.

Aspartame is commonly found in beverages and products such as Diet Coke, sugarless gum, Dannon Activia yogurt, some cough drop brands and certain toothpastes.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer is tasked with using researched and published evidence to assess whether a chemical or substance is a potential hazard — though the agency does not investigate how much of that substance an individual can consume safely.

The initial meeting to discuss the possible effects of aspartame began late last month, though the concluded report will not be announced until the day that the agency makes its final decision, July 14.

While many health experts have already spoken about the harmful effects of artificial sweeteners like aspartame, the decision to label it a possible carcinogen will likely elicit outrage from major corporations — especially because products containing aspartame, like Diet Coke, are immensely popular. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has faced criticism in the past for warning the public about other widely used substances.

Frances Hunt-Wood, the secretary general of the International Sweeteners Association, blasted the agency’s decision and claimed that aspartame is perfectly safe.

“IARC is not a food safety body,” Hunt-Wood argued. “Aspartame is one of the most thoroughly researched ingredients in history, with over 90 food safety agencies across the globe declaring it is safe, including the European Food Safety Authority, which conducted the most comprehensive safety evaluation of aspartame to date.”

The WHO has also warned the public about artificial sweeteners in the past, stating that people should stop using them to lose weight — as there is no proof that they actually help with weight loss.