FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday,
December 15, 2008
Contact: Jeff Cronin, 202-777-8370, or Stacey Greene, 202-777-8316
Stevia: What’s the Rush?
Statement of CSPI Executive Director Michael
Cargill and Coca-Cola are sticking their thumbs
in the Food and Drug Administration’s eyes by rushing to market novel
sweeteners based on the stevia plant. Cargill has been marketing
its Truvia product as a table-top sweetener for several months, and, according
to media reports this week, Coca-Cola will start marketing
. So far, the other
main producer, Merisant, and user, PepsiCo, of a stevia-based product have
held back. A small company, Wisdom Natural Brands, put SweetLeaf
sweetener on the market several months ago.
Stevia and rebaudioside A may well turn out
to be entirely safe. But until more tests have been conducted and
analyzed, it is reckless for food companies to begin adding it willy-nilly
to the food supply and equally reckless for the FDA to stand by mutely.
The FDA should immediately order those products
off the market until all the safety testing has been done.
Though small amounts of stevia have been consumed
in various dietary supplements over the years, apparently without incident,
too few safety tests have been done to warrant more general use. For
starters, as two UCLA toxicologists
in a report
for Science in the Public Interest
last summer, the FDA normally requires food additives to be tested for
two years on rats and mice. The extremely sweet chemical—rebaudioside
A—in stevia has only been tested on rats. Also, several, though
not all, tests indicate that rebaudioside A causes DNA damage and mutations.
That raises the troubling prospect that it could cause cancer.
Remarkably, it is perfectly legal for companies
to market whatever food ingredients they want without even informing, let
alone getting approval from, the FDA. Wisdom Natural Brands has pointedly
said that it did not notify the FDA before marketing SweetLeaf. Last
May, both Cargill and Merisant notified the FDA that they considered their
products to be “generally recognized as safe,” but the FDA has not yet
said whether it agrees.
The Center for Science in the Public
Interest is a nonprofit health advocacy group based in Washington, DC,
that focuses on nutrition, food safety, and pro-health alcohol policies.
CSPI is supported by the 900,000 U.S. and Canadian subscribers to
its Nutrition Action Healthletter and by foundation grants.