Did a Coca-Cola front group sway a WHO review of aspartame?

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In the World Health Organization’s July 14 hazard and risk assessments of aspartame, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified aspartame as “possibly carcinogenic,” but the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) reaffirmed the acceptable daily intake of 40 mg/kg of body weight.

One question is: why the split decision? Why doesn’t the JECFA recommendation line up with the IARC classification or the May 2023 WHO guideline not to use non-sugar sweeteners for weight control?

One possible answer: at least six out of 13 JECFA panel members have ties to ILSI, a longtime Coca-Cola front group. Both the chair and vice chair of the JECFA panel have ties to ILSI.

See Gaël Lombart’s coverage in Le Parisien.

JECFA panelists ruling on a chemical that is important to Coca-Cola should not be affiliated with a longtime Coca-Cola front group.

This is an obvious conflict of interest. Because of this conflict of interest, JECFA’s conclusions about aspartame are not credible, and the public should not rely on them.

Aspartame is the sweetener in Diet Coke.

Here are JECFA panelists with ILSI ties:

Sue Barlow:
Former member of an ILSI committee (ILSI International Food Biotechnology Committee)

Diane Benford (chair):
Former member of an ILSI Europe expert group

Richard Cantrill (vice-chair):
Former participant in an ILSI Europe panel

Jean-Charles Leblanc:
Former member of an ILSI Europe expert group

Josef Schlatter:
Former member of ILSI Health and Environmental Sciences Institute (HESI) board of trustees

Michael DiNovi:
Former member of an ILSI Europe expert workgroup.


  1. Our fact sheets on aspartame:
    Aspartame: Decades of science point to serious health risks
    Aspartame is tied to weight gain, increased appetite and obesity
  1. Gary Ruskin has co-authored five studies on how ILSI operates on behalf of the ultra-processed food industry:

Critical Public Health: How food companies influence evidence and opinion – straight from the horse’s mouth (5.18.2017)

Milbank Quarterly: Public Meets Private: Conversations Between Coca-Cola and the CDC. (1.29.2019)

Globalization and Health: Are industry-funded charities promoting “advocacy-led studies” or “evidence-based science”?: a case study of the International Life Sciences Institute (6.2.2019)

Public Health Nutrition: Pushing partnerships: corporate influence on research and policy via the International Life Sciences Institute (5.17.2020)

Globalization and Health: Beyond nutrition and physical activity: food industry shaping of the very principles of scientific integrity (4.20.2021)

  1. Our fact sheet on ILSI:
    International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) is a food industry lobby group
  1. Key document on how Coca-Cola uses ILSI in product defense efforts for artificial sweeteners and other additives.
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