Experts: WHO's cancer research agency to list aspartame sweetener a possible carcinogen

Published: 3 July 2023

Aspartame, used in products such as diet sodas and chewing gum, will soon be listed as "possibly carcinogenic to humans" for the first time by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the World Health Organization's (WHO) cancer research arm. (Reuters)

Here are some experts from McGill University who can comment on this topic:

Stéphane Bayen, Associate Professor, Department of Food Science and Agricultural Chemistry

It is important to specify that the classifications by the IARC only tells us about the hazardous nature of the chemicals rather than possible associated risks being low or high. Considering the widespread prescence of aspartame in human diet, industry and food safety agencies should work to quickly provide further assessments and recommendations to consumers, in a clear and transparent manner.”

Stéphane Bayen is an Associate Professor in the Department of Food Science and Agricultural Chemistry. His research interests include analytical chemistry applied to the detection of trace contaminants in food and the environment, the fate of contaminants and ecological and human health risk assessments.

stephane.bayen [at] (English, French)

Yu Ma, Associate Professor, Desautels Faculty of Management

The findings about aspartame could lead to increased scrutiny and concerns about the safety of other food additives. Consumers might become more cautious about processed foods in general. This could drive demand for 'clean label' foods that use fewer and more recognizable ingredients.”

Yu Ma is an Associate Professor in the Desautels Faculty of Management and a Faculty Scholar at the Bensadoun School of Retail Management. His research interests include food marketing, retailing and big data analytics. Using consumer purchase data and advanced econometric and statistical models, he studies how consumers react to various marketing incentives. [at] (English)

Joe Schwarcz, Director, Office for Science and Society

Aspartame is the most widely used artificial sweetener in the world. It is also the most researched. The WHO is set to list it as ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans’ but it should be understood that this is based on a hazard, not a risk analysis. That is a big difference.”

Joe Schwarcz is the Director of the Office for Science and Society. He is well known for his informative and entertaining public lectures on topics ranging from the chemistry of love to the science of aging.

joe.schwarcz [at] (English)

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