WASHINGTON — The World Health Organization (WHO) in July plans to list aspartame as “possibly carcinogenic,” according to a story published by Reuters on June 29.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), WHO’s research cancer unit, finalized the ruling earlier this month, according to the report. Reuters added that the ruling “does not take into account how much of a product a person can safely consume” and that IARC’s role “is intended to assess whether something is a potential hazard or not, based on all the published evidence.”

A non-nutritive sweetener, aspartame is used in a variety of applications, including table-top sweeteners, low-calorie beverages, prepared foods, chewing gum, gelatin, ice cream, breakfast cereal and others. The US Food and Drug Administration first approved aspartame as a sweetener in 1974.

Two industry groups defended the safety of aspartame after the Reuters report was published. If IARC lists aspartame as possibly carcinogenic, it would have the same classification the group applies to using aloe vera and eating pickled vegetables, according to the International Council of Beverage Associations.

“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,” said Kate Loatman, executive director of the ICBA, an international non-governmental organization that represents the interests of the non-alcoholic beverage industry.

The Joint Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) may update its risk assessment exercise on aspartame, according to Reuters, including reviewing the acceptable daily intake and dietary exposure assessment. The JECFA currently lists the acceptable daily intake of aspartame at 40 mg/1 kilogram (2.2 lbs) of body weight per day.

“Even IARC agrees it is not the appropriate authority to undertake risk assessment based on actual consumption and that it ‘does not make health recommendations,'” said Ms. Loatman, who has a juris doctorate from The University of Texas School of Law. “We remain confident in the safety of aspartame given the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence and positive safety determinations by food safety authorities in more than 90 countries around the world.

“We, therefore, welcome the broader, more comprehensive food safety review underway by the WHO and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA).”

The results of the IARC evaluation and the JECFA evaluation will be made available at the same time on July 14, according to the WHO.

“Consumers deserve facts, and the fact is aspartame is safe and one of the most widely studied food ingredients, which is why the Calorie Control Council is gravely concerned about any unsubstantiated and misleading assertions that contradict decades of science and global regulatory approvals,” said Robert Rankin, president of the Calorie Control Council, an international association representing the manufacturers and suppliers of low-calorie and reduced-calorie foods and beverages. “IARC is not a regulatory agency, ingredient expert or food safety authority. 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.”

Aspartame also was in the news earlier this year. TheWHO on May 15 releaseda new guideline that recommends against the use of non-sugar sweeteners, including aspartame, to control body weight or reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases.