The long journey to European Union acceptance for the natural, intense sweetener, steviol glycoside, shortened significantly yesterday when the EU’s 27 member states backed its safety at a European Commission (EC) committee meeting.
Member state experts at yesterday’s Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCoFCAH) meeting backed the EC proposal to authorise steviol glycoside after the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) backed its safety in early 2010.
The move was welcomed by the International Stevia Council, whose president, Carl Horn said the move, “brings this calorie-free naturally sourced sweetness one step closer to all consumers in Europe, not just those in France where steviol glycosides were approved for use in food nearly two years ago.”
EC spokesperson Frederic Vincent said stevia-fortified products could be on European shelves by, “early 2012” as long as there were no objections from the European Council and the European Parliament in the three-month scrutiny period the proposal now entered.
“I don’t know of any red flags being raised at the moment, but there have been debates about aspartame, so nothing can be said for sure,” Vincent told this publication. “But if there are no objections then it will become a European Commission regulation by year's end and there could be products on shelves by early 2012.”
Horn added: “The International Stevia Council encourages the European Parliament to support the approval of steviol glycosides as a food additive in Europe so that food manufacturers and consumers throughout the European Union can begin to enjoy the benefits of a natural calorie-free sweetener.”
For more information about the EC’s approach to food additives in the EU click here.
EFSA’s opinion brought the European agency in line with the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), which approves the use of steviol glycosides at 95% purity or above.
Angus Flood, president of the World Stevia Organization, said the industry was ready to unload innovative products if and when the proposal was mandated.
“This is another important step in the successful rollout of stevia Europe. Our membership has increased by a further 100 to 600 corporate and institutional members in the last months in anticipation of approval in November or December of this year," he said.
He previously told FoodNavigator: "The principal areas of interest are in sugar reduction and replacement of synthetic aspartame and sucralose. Fast to market applications are likely to be beverage, dairy, chocolate and retail tabletop. Stevia sweeteners have performed very well in France and now have achieved 23 per cent market share in the US since 2009. EU adoption levels are likely to exceed this.”
The global intense sweeteners market is dominated by aspartame and, to a lesser extent, sucralose, but interest in stevia has risen since regulatory approval was granted in the US in 2008 via the first FDA non-objection letters.
In France, stevia sweeteners with a high purity of the steviol glycoside form Reb A have been permitted under a two-year window in advance of full EU approval since September 2009.
Products sweetened with stevia that have appeared on French shelves include a 70 per cent cocoa chocolate bar made by Swiss chocolate company Villars.