EU opinion could nudge stevia in the U.S.

An opinion published Wednesday by the European Food Safety Agency could have a ripple effect on U.S. food and beverage products, stevia production insiders report.

The opinion will likely trigger the EU to confirm World Health Organization guidelines for the safety of stevia-based sweeteners, according to Dave Bishop, vice president of international affairs at stevia-sweetener producer GLG Lifetech Corporation. The WHO deems safe all stevia sweeteners that are at least 95 percent steviol glycoside (the collection of chemicals that give the stevia leaf its taste).

That will have no direct impact on the U.S. market, Bishop said, because, while early products approved for the U.S. market required 95 percent or greater purity of steviol glycoside rebaudioside-A, the United States Food and Drug Administration has already approved products that meet the less-stringent WHO standard.

But the opinion could have an indirect effect. Bishop called Europe a key market in making stevia into a global sweetener, and the approval could give U.S. food and beverage companies greater confidence in using it.

Florence Berglund, head of marketing and communications for Real Stevia-producer GRANULAR AB, said the decision could encourage food and beverage companies to move away from rebaudioside-A-focused stevia sweeteners, which could ease global supply.

Regardless of this decision, both companies were bullish on the future. Berglund said her company expects scale and improved production techniques to steadily decrease costs, while Bishop noted that 600 new stevia-sweetened products launched worldwide last year.