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The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a branch of the World Health Organization, will issue its report on aspartame later this month. It is prepared to announce that aspartame, the most common artificial sweetener, is a “possible carcinogen.”  

As we await the release of the report and brace for the potential legal fallout, it’s important to closely examine the organization and its history.

The credibility of the IARC has been called into question in recent years, something that has been well-chronicled by the Judicial Hellholes reports. In 2015, IARC issued a report concluding that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup weedkiller, is “probably carcinogenic”. This report has been the basis for hundreds of Roundup lawsuits alleging the product causes cancer. The report is in stark contrast to more than 800 scientific studies as well as analyses by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institutes of Health, and Health Canada

Closer scrutiny of the IARC process reveals that it was advised by an “invited specialist,” Christopher Portier, in its work on glyphosate. At the same time Mr. Portier was working for the agency, he was being paid by the Environmental Defense Fund, an anti-pesticide group. Moreover, Mr. Portier received $160,000 from law firms suing over glyphosate. It is also worth noting that Mr. Portier had no experience with glyphosate prior to his work on it for IARC. 

Following Mr. Portier’s arrival at IARC, the final glyphosate study was altered in at least 10 ways to remove or reverse conclusions finding no evidence of carcinogenicity. The agency removed multiple scientists’ conclusions that studies found no link between glyphosate and cancer in lab animals and statistical analyses of studies with negative findings were turned into positive ones. The determination that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic” was based on “limited evidence” of carcinogenicity in humans and “sufficient evidence” in experimental animals. 

The shakiness of the scientific methods used by IARC in developing the glyphosate report are cause for concern about the upcoming report on aspartame. Even more troublesome, is the influence it might have on the litigation climate for the food and beverage industry in the United States. Judges in Judicial Hellholes have given great weight to IARC’s glyphosate report despite its noted problems, so it is likely that the aspartame report would be given similar deference. This is certainly something to pay close attention to in the coming months. Judges must embrace their roles as “gatekeepers” and ensure that junk science does not permeate their courtrooms.

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