The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) issued a positive opinion yesterday on the safety of steviol glycosides – the sweet components of the stevia leaf – to be used as food additives after the European Stevia Association (Eustas), Cargill and Japanese firm Morita, all filed petitions seeking regulatory approval. The opinion is in line with that of the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), which approves the use of steviol glycosides at 95 per cent purity or above.
Stevia supplier Granular, which supplies the Real Stevia brand, has said it is working with a company called Liv Natur to bring a drink that uses stevia as the sole sweetener to market. 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 in September. Full regulatory approval throughout Europe for stevia-derived sweeteners is expected some time next year, as EFSA’s decision must now be passed on to the European Commission.
Marketing director at Granular, Florence Berglund, told FoodNavigator.com: “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.”
She said that the regulatory status of stevia in Europe would be likely to garner interest from the mainstream press, which could also help raise awareness of the sweetener among consumers – and as awareness grows, more manufacturers are likely to get on board.
“I’m sure it will accelerate the R&D work,” Berglund said.
Stevia supplier GLG Life Tech has also welcomed EFSA’s opinion.
The company’s executive vice president of international affairs David Bishop said in a statement: “This is a significant step forward for the industry and we look forward to introducing our high quality stevia extracts in Europe.
“GLG Life Tech is well positioned to take advantage of EFSA’s findings. We plan to collaborate with current and potential customers to develop and deliver products made with stevia to European grocery shelves.”
And fellow stevia supplier PureCircle has described the announcement as an important step forward.
PureCircle’s European vice president Peter Milsted said: "Our customers will be extremely encouraged by this announcement and it is a strong sign that European consumers will soon be able to choose naturally sweetened, reduced calorie products based on stevia, just like consumers in many other parts of the world."
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued letters of non-objection at the end of 2008 to firms seeking to use the steviol glycoside Reb A at 95 per cent purity or above.