Product launches have gradually begun to emerge in the US since the FDA issued letters of no objection that Reb A, the high purity stevia extract, was GRAS (generally recognized as safe) for use in foods and beverages in December, effectively laying the way for what is expected to be a flood of future launches. But in Canada the regulatory process requires companies looking to launch stevia-sweetened products to approve the sweetener as a food additive under the country’s Food and Drug Regulations.
However, PepsiCo has found a different route by which it has launched its new beverage: Vitamin waters are considered to be natural health products in Canada. Drinks could also be considered as natural health products if they contain minerals, herbal remedies, probiotics, amino acids or essential fatty acids, among others, that are used for treating or preventing disease or for maintaining or promoting health.
Otherwise a food additive
A spokesperson for Health Canada told FoodNavigator-USA.com that it has already approved steviol glycosides for use as sweeteners in 90 natural health products but added that “purified extracts of the stevia leaf, having the intended use of sweetening foods to be offered for sale in Canada, would be regulated as a food additive.”
The new Aquafina product is sweetened with PureVia, provided by PureCircle, which Health Canada said it does consider a purified extract of stevia, but due to its vitamin content, Aquafina Plus Vitamins 10 Cal can be assessed under natural health product rules.
The drink also contains the natural sweetener erythritol, PepsiCo said.
Steviol glycosides can be used in food and beverage products in many countries under widely recognized JECFA (the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives) regulation, and PepsiCo said that the amount of Reb A used in the Aquafina Plus Vitamins drink is “within safe levels” according to those standards, as well as Health Canada’s 2009 guidelines for the use of stevia in natural health products.
The drink is also subject to specific labeling rules, which require PepsiCo to detail its recommended purpose, recommended dose, quantities of vitamins, and to list other ingredients, although a nutrition facts panel is not required under natural health product rules.
President of PepsiCo Beverages Canada Stacy Reichert said: "We are extremely proud to be the first and only nationally available beverage in the country to feature PureVia as a zero calorie, natural sweetener. Consumers have long anticipated a zero calorie natural sweetener and are seeking healthier beverage choices.”
Meanwhile, Health Canada said that it has received information that has caused it to review the safety of Reb A as a food additive, adding “the examination of the use of stevia extracts as food additives must be triggered by a request from a petitioner, which would typically be a member of the food industry.”