Belgian health authority not changing opinion on aspartame
Belgium's health authority will not change its opinion on the artificial sweetener aspartame, which has been declared "possibly carcinogenic" by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer looked into the risk posed by aspartame, which is found in many low-calorie soft drinks. The experts concluded that the sweetener is "possibly carcinogenic to humans", but the daily dose considered safe remains unchanged at 40 mg/kg bodyweight per day.
The Belgian federal public health service, FPS Health, has now confirmed that it will not change its acceptable daily intake of one of the world's most widely used sugar substitutes, which is 200 times sweeter than sugar but gives food a sweet taste without calories.
The WHO verdict does not say how much aspartame a person can safely consume, only that the chemical may be carcinogenic. The "possible" category is used when "limited scientific evidence" has been found in humans or data from animal experiments.
Meanwhile, the WHO's food safety body has looked at the risk of cancer at certain levels of exposure and confirmed that the evidence is inconclusive, adding that there is no reason to change the acceptable daily intake of 40 mg of aspartame per kilogram of bodyweight per day.
For this reason, the Belgian authority argued that there was no plausible mechanism that would indicate the possibility of a carcinogenic effect.
"Consumption of aspartame within this limit is therefore still considered safe," says the FPS Health. This means an adult weighing 70 kgs could consume 14 cans of light soft drinks containing 200 mg of aspartame per day without exceeding the acceptable intake, assuming no intake from other sources.
"If consumers are faced with the decision of whether to take cola with sweeteners or one with sugar, I think there should be a third option considered - which is to drink water instead," Francesco Branca, WHO's director of nutrition, said at a press conference.
© AFP PHOTO/JUAN BARRETO