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Food & Health : Food Chemicals Last Updated: Apr 20, 2011 - 9:38:09 AM

FDA Okays Stevia as GRAS sweetener
By Sue Mueller
Dec 19, 2008 - 9:30:51 AM

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Friday Dec 19, 2008 ( -- The FDA sent a fax to Cargill Inc and Merisant Co's Whole Earth Sweetener unit on Dec 17 saying that the agency has no objection to the petitioners' claim that Stevia is generally recognized as safe sweetener.
Rebaudioside A (rebiana) derived from stevia leaves, is marketed by Cargill and Marisant Co. and finds applications in new low-sugar beverages being developed by Coke-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc.

According to the Institute of Food Technologist, an organization representing tens of thousands of food technologists and food and beverage companies, the GRAS status clears the way for the biggest beverage companies to launch their planned low-sugar beverages with this sweetener.

This month, according to the IFT, Coke-Cola plans to launch two new products with rebiana, Sprite Green containing only 50 calories per 8.5 oz and some natural sugar and Odwalla juice drinks.  PepsiCo will also introduce a zero-calorie SoBe Lifewater next week and an orange juice drink called Trop50 with only half the calories and sugar of orange juice in March.

On Dec 18, Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of The Center for Science in the Public Interest issued a statement claiming that ""general recognition" of safety certainly doesn't extend to the UCLA scientists who concluded that rebaudioside A is inadequately tested in terms of cancer and caused mutations in some laboratory tests."

In a 2008 review, Sarah Kobylewski and Curtis D. Eckhert, PhD. of the University of California Los Angeles found that studies on carcinogenicity of rebaudioside A have not been done in either rats or mice; both types of studies are normally required the FDA.  What has been tested is stevioside in rats only. The authors suggest that both chemicals are not the same and the toxicity of these compounds in both animals may not be the same either.

The authors suggest in their report that "the FDA should require carcinogenicity and toxicology studies in rats and in mice before accepting rebaudioside A as a GRAS substance or approving it as a food additive."

In 2006, the World health Organization reviewed studies and found “stevioside and rebaudioside A are not genotoxic in vitro or in vivo and that the genotoxicity of steviol and some of its oxidative derivatives in vitro is not expressed in vivo."

Extracts of stevia are hundreds times sweeter than table sugar.  This natural sweetener has been commonly used in Japan. In the US, stevia has been used as a dietary supplement.

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