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Critical role of JECFA expert risk assessment body reinforced as report on aspartame published


While the Executive Committee of the Codex Alimentarius Commission was taking place from 10-14 July 2023 in Geneva, the work of one of the expert bodies that provide scientific advice to Codex was in the news when the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) presented its comprehensive updated risk assessment of aspartame, an artificial sweetener, used in many products including diet soft drinks. The update reaffirmed the existing acceptable daily intake (ADI) level for aspartame of 0-40 mg/kg body weight. As a practical example, an 85kg adult would need to consume around 17 cans of a soft drink per day to reach this level.

Published simultaneously with the JECFA update, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an expert panel also linked to WHO, described aspartame as a “possible carcinogen” but confirmed that it remains safe to consume at already agreed levels – those set by JECFA in this its third assessment of the sweetener.

To explain to consumers the difference in the two evaluations, IARC seeks to establish whether there is any evidence that a substance is a potential hazard, while JECFA, assesses how much of a real-life risk that substance poses and consequently sets the ADI. This data is then adopted by the 189 Members of the Codex Alimentarius Commission into the General Standard on Food Additives a global standard for international trade.

Speaking at a press conference in Geneva, Dr Mary Schubauer-Berigan, from IARC said the "evidence was not of sufficiently high quality or convincing enough" and "this is really more a call to the research community" to study the sweetener more.

The Executive Committee heard how IARC evaluations of food use chemicals are limited to hazard identification based on public data, whereas JECFA evaluations are full risk assessments, including hazard identification, based on all available data. Members of the Committee were encouraged to continue to recognise JECFA as the risk assessment body for food use chemicals.  


Learn more

Read joint news release on aspartame

Scientific advice in Codex

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