Stevia Regulatory Environment
Worldwide there has been much movement across scientific bodies for the approval of the use of stevia in food and beverage applications as a new all natural sugar substitute. This positive movement has resulted in the removal of restrictions on the ingredient in many countries, which heretofore had only allowed stevia to be consumed as a dietary supplement or not at all. Today, many people around the world are able to enjoy the benefits of stevia as a healthy sweetening solution.
On December 17, 2008 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of high quality stevia extract in food and beverages. The decision was made after leading industry players Cargill in partnership with The Coca Cola Company and Pepsi in partnership with Merisant submitted applications for its approval for use in food and beverages as generally recognized as safe (GRAS).
In May of 2008, Cargill, the world's leading agricultural and food products provider, published studies in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Food and Chemical Toxicology that established the safety of rebiana, a sweetener made with 97% Rebaudioside A, and sourced from stevia extract supplied by GLG. These studies were submitted to the FDA among a host of other scientific data that included years of in-depth study and clinical trials that supported the use of rebiana high grade stevia extract as a safe and healthy food ingredient. The studies were accompanied by an application for approval under GRAS status and were reviewed by the FDA extensively before it recently issued its letter of "No Objection" for rebiana's use in food and beverages. Pepsi and Merisant also received a letter of no objection from the FDA.
In June of 2008 the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives, administered jointly by the World Health Organization and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, raised the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) level for stevia. JECFA is an international scientific committee established in 1956 to evaluate food additives. Leading the global scientific community in research and in establishing the principles and guidelines of safety assessment for chemicals in food, the committee has evaluated more than 1500 food additives, approximately 40 contaminants and naturally occurring toxicants, and residues of approximately 90 veterinary drugs.
After over a decade of study, JECFA published approval of stevia stating that "95 percent steviol glycosides are safe for human use in the range of four milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day". This doubled the ADI level previously set by JECFA from earlier studies.
These findings added to its previous releases in 2006 which established that "stevioside and rebaudioside A are not genotoxic in vitro or in vivo". JECFA has been instrumental in paving the way for the establishment of safe and healthy food additives for over 50 years.
In October 2008, the Australian and New Zealand food and safety regulatory body FSANZ also approved stevia for use in food and beverages as an ingredient. The approval was based on research and data published by JECFA as well as 10-year studies conducted by the Plant Science Group at Central Queensland University and Australian Stevia Mills. The petition and subsequent approval of stevia are part of a movement towards the development of healthier products in the food and beverage industry which are driven by both consumer and regulatory demand.
In addition to governments such as Australia and New Zealand, stevia is allowed in certain countries within the European community including Switzerland (product by produce basis) and France. In September of 2009, the French food safety agency AFSSA, approved the use of RA97 in food and beverages based on an allowance for individual member states to approve ingredients for a limited two year period while pending full EU approval. The following April in 2010, The European Food Safety Authority issued a positive safety assessment for stevia after an in depth study of the ingredient. This moved the approval process into its final stages for Europe leaving only the Commission to review the findings and change the law. This step is expected to be completed during the first half of 2011 which would thereby formally allow stevia extracts to be used in food and beverages throughout the European community.
Stevia is quickly gaining approval and popularity with consumers around the globe. It is already an approved food additive in many other countries as well including China, Japan, Paraguay, Korea, Brazil, Israel, Malaysia and Mexico. In Paraguay, it has been used for over 200 years to sweeten food and beverages and in Japan it is estimated that stevia accounts for an estimated 40% of the sweetener market. As a zero calorie, natural sweetening solution, stevia continues to be a sweetener of choice for millions around the world.