Suppliers and stakeholders in the stevia industry are organising to maintain standards and pursue scientific enquiry into the use of stevia sweeteners. But two trade organisations have been announced this week, with very different membership criteria and ostensibly different aims.
Stevia, a South American plant in the sunflower family, has atttracted massive interest in the last two years following FDA GRAS (generally recognised as safe) of high purity Reb A as a sweetener in the United States in late 2008. The European Food Safety Authority has published a positive safety opinion on extracts will a high purity of all steviol glycosides, and approval is expected from the European Commission in the first half of 2011.
The formation of the International Stevia Council was announced yesterday, and is open to companies that process and/or manufacture and market stevia products in accordance with the JECFA purity specifications on steviol glycosides. Its main focus is on safety, quality and stakeholder understanding. Founding members are Cargill, Corn Products, GLG Life Tech, Granular, Morita Kagaku Kogyo, PureCircle, Sunwin, Sweet Green Fields, SweetLeaf Sweeteners, Verdure Sciences Europe and the Whole Earth Sweetener Company.
It has its headquarters in Brussels and an office in Washington DC, USA.
Meanwhile, the organising committee of Malta Strategic conferences has also announced the formation of a group to be called the World Stevia Organisation. Expected to be formally launched at the Stevia and Salt Reduction Conference in Malta at the end of this month, this organisation will be open to stakeholders throughout the entire supply chain, including agriculture, academia, manufacturing at all production stages, food and beverage companies, regulators, consumers, practitioners and media. The president and board will also be elected at the Malta conference.
Chairman Dr Marvin Edeas, speaking on behalf of the scientific board of the conference, said the aim is to highlight approaches to preventing sugar-related chronic diseases. “Stevia will play a major and strategic role to prevent obesity and diabetes. To reach the target we need a clear global network between all actors involved in stevia; for the agriculture to consumers,” he said.
“Representation and the voting system will be truly democratic, ie one member one vote, and membership costs will be fair and non-exclusive,” said Malta Strategic conferences in a statement.
Carl Horn of Swedish stevia form Granular, who has been elected president of the International Stevia Council told FoodNavigator.com that before all interests were gathered under the European Stevia Association (EUSTAS), of which he is also on the board, but as they industry has grown “we decided to break out the trade interests as they were specific, and have the European organisation focus on the research side and consumer interests – but there is an overlap”.
“We are sure there will be many organisations, we don’t necessarily have a patent [on having a stevia organisation].” He added that he sees competition is good as long as it is between “serious people who want to bring something”.
“We welcome any overlap. Those who perform best for industry and consumers will be the survivors”.
For his part Dr Edeas told FoodNavigator.com that the idea of the World Stevia Organisation is not competition with the International Stevia Council, either. But he said: “Everyone thinks stevia will be green gold in the future” – and it is important to protect the science and advance the discussion.
Costs of membership
Horn told FoodNavigator.com that the International Stevia Council is “all-inclusive”. “We are a trade organisation for the supply side, but there will be a need for other aspects,” he said. “We don’t exclude anybody at our end of the industry”.
Asked whether the two organisations may have some members in common, he pointed out that “it is costly to support organisations if you want to be in more that one”.
The membership and service fees for the International Stevia Council are still being worked out, according to Horn. “We have to establish where we want to go and what resources we will need to do that”.
The World Stevia Organisation, too, will have membership fees and has indicated that these will be structured to be affordable to all stakeholders, no matter their size.