EFSA give Stevia a positive verdict

Posted by Josette Dunn on 19th April 2010

The European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) scientific Panel on additives, the ANS Panel, has assessed the safety of steviol glycosides, sweeteners extracted from plant leaves, and established an Acceptable Daily Intake for their safe use.

The assessment was conducted after European Stevia Association (Eustas), Cargill and Japanese firm Morita, all filed petitions seeking regulatory approval.

Steviol glycosides are intense sweeteners extracted from the leaves of the stevia plant (Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni). These substances, such as stevioside and rebaudioside, range in sweetness from 40 to 300 times sweeter than sucrose.

The assessment has been sent to the European Commission which will consider whether or not to authorise the substances in the European Union for their proposed use in particular in sugar free or reduced energy foods such as certain flavoured drinks, confectionery with no added sugar or energy reduced soups.

Full regulatory approval for stevia-derived sweeteners throughout Europe is expected from the European Commission some time next year.

Stevia supplier Granular has said they working with a company called Liv Natur to bring a drink to the market that uses stevia as the sole sweetener. The maté drink is due to be released in France in June, where the steviol glycoside rebaudioside A (or Reb A) was approved for use last September.

Marketing director at Granular, Florence Berglund, said “There is a strong interest from the market. The reason it hasn’t been picked up as fast as expected is that consumers need more awareness… This is one of the things we are really trying to do… For sure this scientific opinion is quite a significant step.”

Toxicological testing by the EFSA showed that the substances are not genotoxic, nor carcinogenic, or linked to any adverse effects on the reproductive human system or for the developing child. The Panel set an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI)[1] of 4 mg per kg body weight per day for steviol glycosides, a level consistent with that already established by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA).

The Panel points out, however, that this ADI could be exceeded by both adults and children if these sweeteners are used at the maximum levels proposed by the applicants.

The FDA approved the use of rebaudioside A (an active ingredient of stevia) in US food and beverages in December 2008, and since then the stevia market has erupted in that nation.

The Australian food authority FSANZ  also approved the use of the natural sweetener, in October 2008.