Stevia is expected to gain approval in the EU in 2010. The European Food Safety Authority is currently preparing its opinion on steviol glycosides following petitions from EUSTAS and others; novel foods approval for the dried leaves is also being sought in Germany.
In advance of the regulatory green lights, EUSTAS is developing a scheme that would allow suppliers to use a certification mark on their material – and those processing or distributing it – subject to a control procedure and contract.
Medherbs CEO Peter Grosser, who also handles regulatory affairs for EUSTAS, told delegates at last week’s stevia symposium in Leuven that approval for steviol glycosides in Europe will only be for purity levels in excess of 95 per cent, as per the JECFA level.
“Who is to check and guarantee adherence to this limit? The national authorities responsible for the evaluation and control of foodstuffs are only capable of analysing the quantity of individual steviol glycosides in an end product, like jam,” he said.
“But no analytical laboratory can state what levels of purity and contamination and what microbiological rating the steviol glycosides used, have in a finished product.”
For this reason he is proposing an independent control system to guarantee the purity and quality of raw stevia products.
In addition, quality control for the sweetener would breed consumer trust – and the processing industry would be able to order checked products, thus giving producers a competitive advantage.
Grosser told FoodNavigator.com that more discussions are needed on a quality certification system, but a logo has been devised, based on EUSTAS’ logo.
The priority is for steviol glycosides at the moment, but that a parallel scheme for the dried leaves, used primarily as an additive in tea mixtures, is also on the cards.
Indeed the system that has been devised would be applicable to both. The common areas are: scope of application; quality standards; methods of verification; control procedure; legally binding contracts; awarding of certification mark; penalties in cases of breach; and costs.
It is envisaged that a 12-month, internationally binding contract be signed by EUSTAS and the producer – including a nondisclosure agreement to protect confidentiality.
The costs for implementing the quality control system would be covered by the applicant/licensee, and an annual fee would cover inspection costs and surveying.
A further amount linked to production capacity would cover costs of ongoing controls and analysis for monitoring quality standards.
Grosser emphasised that EUSTAS is a non-profit organisation. “It is not the aim to enrich ourselves,” he said, but added that acceptable fees to cover the costs would have to be decided upon.