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FDA calls aspartame safe, disagrees with WHO on potential cancer risk

Washington, July 16 (IANS) Aspartame, the popular artificial sweetener, is safe for use, said the US Food and Drug Administration while disagreeing with the World Health Organisation’s classification of the soda sweetener as a cancer-causing agent.

On Friday, the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) labelled aspartame as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”.

Soon after, the global health body’s Joint Food and Agriculture Organisation/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), said there was no reason to change guidance. The JECFA also recommended that a person can safely consume up to 14 cans of diet drink a day.

Now, the FDA said that the new labelling “does not mean that aspartame is actually linked to cancer”.

It said it “disagrees with IARC’s conclusion that these studies support classifying aspartame as a possible carcinogen to humans”.

FDA scientists had reviewed the scientific information included in IARC’s review in 2021 when it was first made available and identified significant shortcomings in the studies on which IARC relied.

“We note that JECFA did not raise safety concerns for aspartame under the current levels of use and did not change the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI),” the FDA said, in a statement.

“Aspartame is one of the most studied food additives in the human food supply. FDA scientists do not have safety concerns when aspartame is used under the approved conditions,” it added.

The sweetener is approved in many countries.

Regulatory and scientific authorities, such as Health Canada and Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) have evaluated aspartame and also consider it safe at current permitted use levels.

Sweeteners or sugar substitutes, such as aspartame, sucralose, and stevia derived substances, are ingredients used to sweeten and in some cases enhance the flavour of foods.

The IARC classified aspartame as possibly carcinogenic to humans on the basis of limited evidence for cancer in humans (specifically, for hepatocellular carcinoma, which is a type of liver cancer).

There was also limited evidence for cancer in experimental animals and limited evidence related to the possible mechanisms for causing cancer, the WHO said in a statement.

Indian doctors also confirmed its safety, while asking people consuming the sweetener to not panic.

“Overall risk (of aspartame) is very low if consumed within the prescribed limits. No need for panic if you are using aspartame,” Dr V. Mohan, chairman of Dr Mohan’s Diabetes Specialities Centre, wrote on Twitter.

“It is ok to have aspartame within recommended limits,” added Dr Abby Philips, a hepatologist, popularly known as the liver doctor, on the microblogging site.

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