European Union finally gives stevia sweetener the green light

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 15th November 2011

The European Parliament and the Council of Ministers have given their approval for the use of steviol glycosides, a natural sweetener derived from the stevia plant, as an ingredient in foods and beverages in the European Union.

The new regulatory policy will enter into force twenty days after it is published in the EU Official Journal.  This means that products sweetened with steviol glycosides could be available to consumers across Europe by as early as 3 December 2011.

Steviol glycosides are considered high intensity sweeteners (250-300 times that of sucrose) and have been used for several years in a number of countries (such as Australia) as a sweetener for a range of food products. The ingredient is said to play an important role in addressing consumer interest in healthier diets and sustainable ingredients due to its low calorific content and zero glycemic load.

The EU Parliament’s decision, reinforced by the European Food Safety Authority, confirms a longstanding position held by the World Health Organization’s Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) that steviol glycosides are “safe for all populations to consume” and that they are “suitable as a sweetening option for diabetics”.

The European Food Safety Authority concluded that the sweeteners are “not carcinogenic, genotoxic or associated with any reproductive/developmental toxicity”.

The EU previously gave France the temporary right to allow products containing stevia to be sold in that country in 2009. Paris was able to approve the use of stevia under an EU law that allowed member states to give the green light to ingredients for a limited two-year period before Brussels gave its full backing this week.

Regulation of steviol glycosides in Australia

In Australia (and New Zealand) steviol glycoside were extracts were approved to be used as a sweetener in August 2008 by Australia’s government agency Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).

During the same year, steviol glycosides were granted GRAS (Generally Recognised as Safe) status in the United States. Since then, approval by legislators across the world has opened the door to new stevia-derived formulations. Numerous foods and beverages are being reformulated with zero or reduced calorie content. The status of steviol glycosides as a global ingredient was secured with incorporation into leading soft drinks brands manufactured by Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.