The industry may have persuaded the US Food & Drug Administration that stevia is safe — but not everyone is convinced.
The FDA declared its decision in December to confer Generally Recognised as Safe status on stevia plant extract Rebaudioside A, also known as rebina, paving the way for the zero-calorie sweetener to be used in food and drink applications.
But no sooner had it done so, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer rights pressure group, announced its misgivings. In a statement, CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson said: "Shame on the Food and Drug Administration for its midnight decision to accept industry's contention that rebaudioside A, a sweetener extracted from the herb stevia, is generally recognised as safe.
"That 'general recognition' of safety certainly doesn't extend to the UCLA scientists who concluded that rebaudioside A is inadequately tested in terms of cancer and caused mutations in some laboratory tests.
"It is far too soon to allow this substance in the diet sodas and juice drinks consumed by millions of people. It looks like this is President Bush's parting gift to the soda industry. If President-Elect Obama's transition team is making a list of last-minute Bush Administration regulatory actions that warrant reversal on January 20, this needs to be added to the list."
But Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council, questioned the evidence on which the CSPI had based its opinion.
"In view of the increasingly compelling body of toxicological and clinical data supporting the safety of various stevia preparations, CSPI's position appears to be based on less than compelling data, particularly since the UCLA review does not appear to have been peer reviewed nor published — a key aspect of the scientific process."
View the UCLA study at: http://cspinet.org/new/pdf/stevia-report_final-8-14-08.pdf