As the drive to bring stevia to shop shelves steps up a gear, campaigners urge caution in what they see as a rush to market, saying FDA GRAS must come first.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest said that if stevia products are launched without an official response from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on the sweetener’s Gras (generally recognized as safe) status, they should be removed from the shelves until more safety tests have been done.
This, it said, is despite the fact that it is perfectly legal for companies to market whatever food ingredients they want without informing or getting approval from the FDA.
The statement from the CSPI followed reports that Coca-Cola plans to market three flavors of a juice drink in its Odwalla line sweetened with stevia this week, although a spokesman for Coca-Cola North America, declined to comment.
PepsiCo is also poised to launch two drinks sweetened with stevia in the US - SoBe Life Water and Trop 50 – although it has said that it is waiting for the FDA green light first.
Stevia is already permitted for sale in the US as a dietary supplement. However, Merisant Company and Cargill have both notified the FDA that rebiana (the common name for high-purity Rebaudioside A from stevia) should have FDA GRAS for use in food and beverages. The outcome is pending.
Meanwhile the CSPI said that stevia and rebaudioside A may well turn out to be entirely safe, but until more tests have been conducted and analyzed, it would be “reckless” to begin adding it to the food supply.
It added: “The FDA should immediately order those products off the market until all the safety testing has been done.
“Though small amounts of stevia have been consumed in various dietary supplements over the years, apparently without incident, too few safety tests have been done to warrant more general use.”
This summer Foodnavigator-USA.com reported that a review of safety data was carried out by toxicologists at the University of California on behalf of the CSPI.
The review said that carcinogenicity studies have not found stevioside (which differs slightly from rebiana) to be carcinogenic in rats but further studies on rebiana, including a study on mice, are needed.
The study concluded that the FDA should require carcinogenicity and toxicology studies both in rats and mice before accepting rebaudioside A as GRAS or approving it as a food additive.
A spokesman for PepsiCo said at the time: “Everyone agrees that no ingredient should be marketed to consumers until its safety has been proven.
“While we believe the full body of evidence presented to the FDA by multiple sweetener manufacturers demonstrates the safety of this ingredient, ultimately it’s up to the FDA to decide.”