FDA Disagrees with WHO’s Cancer Link Claim for Aspartame in Diet Sodas

FDA Disagrees with WHO Finding on Aspartame and Cancer Risk

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has challenged a recent finding by the World Health Organization (WHO) suggesting that aspartame, a popular soda sweetener, may cause cancer in humans. The FDA has deemed the studies behind the WHO’s conclusion to have “significant shortcomings.” FDA scientists have stated that they do not have safety concerns when aspartame is used within approved conditions. The controversy arises from a possible link found by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a body of the WHO, between aspartame and a specific type of liver cancer called hepatocellular carcinoma.

Aspartame, commonly used as a substitute for sugar, can be found in around 6,000 products worldwide. Artificially sweetened beverages, such as diet sodas like Diet Coke and Pepsi Zero Sugar, are the primary source of exposure to aspartame. It is used extensively because it is 200 times sweeter than sugar, providing similar taste with fewer calories. However, aspartame’s classification as a possible carcinogen by the WHO is based on limited evidence and is seen as a call for more research into its cancer-causing potential.

Dr. Mary Schubauer-Berigan, a senior official at the IARC, acknowledged the flaws in the studies and emphasized the need for further research. The FDA spokesperson also clarified that the classification of aspartame as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” does not imply a direct link between the sweetener and cancer. Health Canada and the European Food Safety Authority had previously concluded that aspartame is safe at current permitted levels.

Adding to the debate, the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), an international group comprising scientists from the WHO and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, stated that the evidence of an association between aspartame and cancer in humans is unconvincing. JECFA recommends a limit of 40 milligrams of aspartame per kilogram of body weight daily, and it maintains that this quantity is safe for consumption.

The discrepancies between the WHO’s findings and the viewpoints of other regulatory bodies raise questions about the completeness of the IARC’s review, as JECFA critically examines both public and private data. The FDA offers a slightly higher recommended consumption limit of 50 milligrams of aspartame per kilogram of body weight daily.

While the debate continues, it is crucial to note that the current research fails to prove a direct and definitive link between aspartame and cancer in humans. Consumers can take comfort in the fact that regulatory bodies, including the FDA, have deemed aspartame safe within approved conditions. As with any food additive, moderation remains key to a healthy diet.