With the sound of great relief many media outlets welcomed a decision made by the EU commission on Monday. It eventually allowed a sweetener made from the South American stevia plant to enter the European market. A ten-year struggle comes to an end – for now.
Stevia rebaudiana, also called sugar- or sweetleaf, originates from Paraguay and is used there as a sweetener for a long time. But it wasn’t approved for use in Europe because the legislation says, that novel foods need special authorization. According to the definition, novel foods have no history of "significant consumption" in the EU before the legislation became effective in May 1997.
Safety evaluations, initiated by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), established an acceptable daily intake of four milligram per kilogram bodyweight. On the basis of this limitation the EU commission approved stevia, finally. With the beginning of next month the first products could hit the shelves.
The breaking stevia news made it into many major German media. They unisonous appreciated the agencies move, often hailing the sweetener as "natural", "teeth friendly" and "non-caloric". Some managed to include the tight margins, within the substance can be used safely. Only Christina Berndt at the Süddeutsche Zeitung put them in context with the maximum amount allowed for artificial sweeteners. She also explained, that the claim "natural" not necessarily guarantees, that the product is harmless. Like Berndt also other writers mentioned, that stevia was already on the European market even without approval. It was sold in some stores, camouflaged as additive for hot baths, "fertilizer" or "mouth wash". One knows that trick from designer drugs sold as "bath salts" and "air freshener".
Two outlets told their audience, how much stevia might end in certain products, but they came to very different results. Maria Braun at Handelsblatt quotes a source that the amount of stevia-sweetener necessary to replace the sugar in one liter of soda will be well below the maximum permissible value for an average adult. Whereas Christoph Froehlich at Stern.de found a source telling him, that the soda companies have to exceed the maximum level in a soda by the factor three to replace the sugar entirely. He comes to the conclusion, that the sweet revolution is still far away.
Two points are entirely missing in the swell of stories: The new regulation includes a clause, that the commission might ask the EFSA to perform an exposure analysis for the new sweetener, taking into account its real use.
The other and more important thing is the origin of the plant. Everybody treats it like a common good and does not think about ethical issues of commercializing indigenous knowledge. The EU already spent money to find out how to grow the plant in South Europe.
Also, an unrelated story:
Chicks on drugs
An investigation in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia caused a big stir: Veterinarians found that 96.4 percent of the controlled chicken got antibiotics during their life, which lasts just 30 days. Some of them carried eight different drugs in their blood. This is not only illegal but also dangerous for people. Earlier this year, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment communicated, that 22 percent of the broilers carry germs that are resistant against several antibiotic. Only one year ago, the Robert-Koch-Institute found MRSA in every third frozen poultry sample, writes the Süddeutsche Zeitung.