Producers of sweeteners derived from the stevia plant are on alert after it emerged the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) will publish its long-awaited opinion on the safety of steviol glycosides within days.
Jan Geuns, president of the European Stevia Association (EUSTAS), told Functional Ingredients EFSA had written to him to say it would publish its verdict on EUSTAS's Novel Food application for steviol glycosides by the end of March.
Geuns, who has fought for years to gain Novel Food approval for stevia, said he was confident EFSA's verdict would be positive in the light of a decision by the French authorities in September last year to approve Rebaudioside A 97, the purest form of stevia available.
"We all hope that the outcome will be positive," he said. "Stevia and steviol glycosides are authorised in most countries worldwide. Only Europe — except France and Switzerland — is an exception."
Geuns added that he hoped EFSA would not follow the lead of France and approve only Rebaudioside A, which is made from just one component of the stevia leaf, but also steviol glycosides which contain a mixture of several components of the plant.
"The mixture of all sweeteners is as safe as the purified Rebaudioside A, since all the sweeteners are converted into steviol by the bacteria of the colon," he said. "The mixture is also about five times less expensive than the pure Rebaudioside A, so it would be better for the consumer."