The formation of the IS 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 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.
Stevia has garnered considerable interest as a sweetener in the last 2 years following the United States’ FDA GRAS of Reb A, deemed by some to be the most interesting of the 11 steviol glycosides, at a purity level of 97 per cent and above.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has returned a positive safety opinion on all steviol glycosides at a purity level of 95 per cent and above, in keeping with the WHO/FAO JECFA approval. The European Commission is expected to approve 95 per cent steviol glycosides as sweeteners in the EU in the first half of 2011.
Carl Horn, president of the ISC and CEO of Swedish stevia firm Granular, told FoodNavigator.com that one of the first tasks of the council will be to establish a common methodology for measuring purity.
“To make the playing field even in our industry, we have to agree on how to measure,” he said. The aim is to ensure that “when we say it is 95 per cent and one of my colleagues says its 95 per cent, we’re talking about the same thing.”
Several different methods and research models currently exist, all with a reasonable margin – but some claim there is a difference in accuracy. Some methods are better for lab use and some for industry, Horn explained. A decision also needs to be taken about whether the extract is analysed before drying or after.
He emphasised that determining a common methodology is not about product safety. “It is about making it fair so customers can compare apples with apples,” he said. “It has been determined by EFSA and JECFA that stevia is a very, very safe product. Even in multiples of the suggested ADI there is no sign of any negative effect."
He added that JECFA deems the metabolism of all steviol glycosides to be the same in the body. It is up to the customers to decide which is best for the flavour they want. Either they can be flexible and mix the steviol glycosides like a wine blender, or they can calibrate their equipment for one molecule.
Marie Theresa Scardigli, executive president of the ISC, said it will be compulsory for all members of the council submit their stevia products for profile testing, and testing will be open to non-members too. Such benchmarks will ensure the credible of the industry.
Horn added that end product is very expensive per kg as it is highly concentrated, but that this makes it vulnerable to manipulation by less scrupulous actors. There have been rumours of adulteration in the past, but before the formation of the ISC no-one had the opportunity to look into it.
“It is very important to keep the industry squeaky clean,” – but added: “We’re not a police organisation, but can certainly tell people what is happening.”
Scardigli added that ISC members will be working on a new basic terminology for stevia, agreeing on two-sentence definitions for each of the core terms, for both scientific communications and talking to consumers.