Stevia, a natural sweetener from plant extracts of Stevia rebaudiana is up to 300 times sweeter than sugar. The food industry is interested in this substance for years, but Stevia has long been suspected of causing cancer. The European Commission has now decided that the substance is safe after the European authority for food safety (EFSA) had allayed health concerns to Stevia in 20101. The regulation (EU) No 1131/2011 introducing the new sweetener shall become effective early December 2011. The new additive will be listed under number E 960. Furthermore the use of additives in food will soon become even safer and more transparent by adoption of two new legislations.

A new natural sweetener is finally approved to be used as additive in the EU. The sweetener is made from the leaves of the in Paraguay domestic plant Stevia rebaudiana and is up to 300 times sweeter than sugar. Thus, Stevia could be use for example in the manufacturing of low-calorie beverages. The food industry wants to use the substance in soft drinks, yogurt, cereals and chocolate. The new additive will be listed under number E 960. One of the reasons for this approval is the “need for new, reduced-calorie products” according to the EU.

On November 11th the European Commission formally adopted the regulation which allows the use of steviol glycosides as a sweetener for foods and beverages in the 27 member states. The regulation, which was published November 12th in the EU Official Journal, becomes effective December 2nd after member states had already granted approval during the summer. According to the EU, the EFSA has verified the safety of the substance. Stevia has long been suspected to be a possible carcinogenic and genotoxic substance.

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Food additives are defined as substances which preserve, color or sweeten foodstuff. Only those food additives that provide benefit to the consumer, e.g. a longer shelf life, and are found not to be harmful are approved. It is duty to indicate additives by using E numbers or by its full name in the list of ingredients of foodstuffs in the EU (see updated list of food additives in the EU). By 2020, the EFSA will recheck all 320 approved additives currently allowed for use in the EU. This includes the controversial discussed sweetener Aspartame.

In the EU the use of additives in food will soon become even safer and more transparent than it currently is due to two legislations which were adopted by the European Commission November 20112. Based on these legislations the Commission presents two new lists. The first list concerns additives in foodstuff which will come into application June 2013. A free accessible online database will allow consumers to easily identify which additives are authorized in a particular food. The second list consists of additives in food ingredients, such as flavors, nutrients and enzymes. This list will take effect in the coming weeks. The establishment of these two lists is an important step in the implementation of framework Regulation (EC) No 1333/2008 on food additives adopted December 2008.

1

Scientific Opinion on the safety of steviol glycosides for the proposed uses as a food additive

2 Food: new legislation to make the use of additives in the EU safer and more transparent