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FDA Continues Pushing Natural Herb Sweetener Stevia Out of U.S.

September 19, 2007
Organic Consumers Association
Hain Celestial Group Inc., the maker of Celestial Seasonings teas, received a warning from U.S. regulators that some of its powdered drink mixes contain an unsafe herb.

Some Celestial Seasonings tea mixes, called Zingers to Go, contain a South American herb, stevia, that must be removed from teh pruducts, the Food and Drug Administration said in a warning letter posted Tuesday on its Web site.

Stevia is a main staple sweetener in many countries, including Japan and China, where it's found in multiple food products.  Companies including Coca-Cola Co. and Cargill Inc. have been developing products that substitute stevia for artifical sweeteners like aspartame, but the FDA currently bans any food product from containing the natural sweetener.

''While FDA has received inquiries and petitions for the use of stevia or stevia extracts in food, data and information necessary to support the safe use have been lacking,'' according to the FDA letter. But on the FDA's own website, a GRAS petition submitted to FDA in 1995 cited over 900 Stevia studies, none of which indicated any safety concerns regarding human health.

According to the American Herbal Products Association, "Stevia leaf is a natural product that has been used for at least 400 years as a food product, principally as a sweetener or other flavoring agent.  None of this common usage in foods has indicated any evidence of a safety problem.  There are no reports of any government agency in any of the above countries indicating any public health concern whatsoever in connection with the use of stevia in foods."

The agency's letter named the company's Zingers to Go Tangerine Orange Wave Herb Tea as containing the additive. Other flavors of the Zingers to Go powdered drink mix also were labeled on the company's Web site as containing stevia, according to the letter.

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Stevia Quotes

 "The petition cites over 120 articles about stevia written before 1958, and over 900 articles published to date. In this well-chronicled history of stevia, no author has ever reported any adverse human health consequences associated with consumption of stevia leaf."  Supplement to GRAS affirmation petition no. 4G0406, submitted by the Thomas J. Lipton Company February 3, 1995

 "According to the Herb Research Foundation, numerous scientists, and tens of millions of consumers throughout the world, especially in Japan, the herb is safe and intensely sweet, which could make it a popular noncaloric sweetener."  Rob McCaleb, president, Herb Research Foundation, Boulder, Colo., USA

 "...as a scientist with over 15 years researching the safety of stevia and of many other plants used as food or food ingredients, I can assure that our conclusions in these various studies indicate that stevia is safe for human consumption as per intended usage, that is, as a sweetener."  Mauro Alvarez, Ph.D., Brazil

 "Stevia leaf is a natural product that has been used for at least 400 years as a food product, principally as a sweetener or other flavoring agent.  None of this common usage in foods has indicated any evidence of a safety problem.  There are no reports of any government agency in any of the above countries indicating any public health concern whatsoever in connection with the use of stevia in foods."  Gras affirmation petition submitted on behalf of the American Herbal Products Association, April 23, 1992

 "...various extract forms of stevia have been extensively studied and tested.  These tests include acute, sub-acute, carcinogenic evaluation and mutagenicity studies.  These scientific data, while not directly relevant or required for exemption under the common use in food proviso, nevertheless demonstrate cumulatively that there is no safety problem associated with the use of an extract of stevia. It appear to be extraordinarily safe."  Introduction to GRAS affirmation petition submitted by the American Herbal Products Association, April 23, 1992

"(The FDA action on stevia is) a restraint of trade to benefit the artificial sweetener industry." Jon Kyl (R), AZ in a 1993 letter to former FDA Commissioner David Kessler about the 1991 stevia "import alert."

"Stevia has a political problem." Rob McCaleb, president Herb Research Foundation

"I had one guy from the FDA tell me 'if we wanted to make carrots (be) against the law, we could do it.'" Kerry Nielson, former director of operations at Sunrider International, discussing the 1985 FDA seizure of his company's stevia.

"Even if they have reviewed these studies, the only possible way to report that the results showed detrimental effects is by taking information out of context.  If this is the case, one concludes that these FDA scientists are incompetent and irresponsible, or if not, they must belong to some sort of conspiracy group to carry on a sinister agenda against this plant with the objective to keep it away from American consumers by attributing to it safety issues that do not exist." Mauro Alvarez, Ph.D., responding in a 1998 letter to the fact that the FDA cited stevia studies he conducted as evidence that stevia is unsafe.
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Stevia Links:

Read and discuss Stevia in OCA's web forum:
http://organicconsumers.org/forum/index.php?showtopic=205

Link to scientific studies regarding stevia: http://www.stevia.net/safety.htm

FDA's updated Stevia Detention list (FDA alert indicating that food products containing Stevia shall be detained at the border and refusal to import):
http://www.fda.gov/ora/fiars/ora_import_ia4506.html

FDA Warning Letter to Celestial Seasonings:
http://www.fda.gov/foi/warning_letters/s6500c.htm

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