Stevia, Stevioside and Aspartame

In a written answer to a parliamentary question, Mr. David Byrne, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, gave the following comments about sweetener safety.

On the basis of applications from two different companies, the Commission requested the Scientific Committee on Food to examine the safety of stevioside as a sweetener and Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni plants and leaves as novel food. The most recent opinions of the Scientific Committee date from June 1999.

With regard to the plant products, the Committee concluded that the information provided on the specification, standardisation of the product and safety studies was insufficient. This confirmed an initial assessment report carried out by the national authority that received the application. Consequently, the Commission decided not to authorise the placing on the market of Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni plants and dried leaves as food or a food ingredient.

With regard to the sweetener, the Committee expressed concerns regarding the absence of safety data about the genotoxicity potential of a metabolite of stevioside, about the specification of the compound (impurities) and about possible effects on human fertility. Therefore, the Commission did not consider it appropriate to propose the authorisation of this substance as a sweetener for use in foodstuffs.

The Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives and Contaminants of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has expressed similar concerns about stevioside as the Scientific Committee on Food.

Aspartame has also been evaluated by the Scientific Committee on Food and has been found acceptable for use as a sweetener in food. An Acceptable Daily Intake of 40 milligram per kilogram bodyweight has been set by the Committee. Accordingly, this sweetener has been authorised under Community legislation for a restricted range of foods and with maximum usage levels.

The Commission would like to reassure the Honourable Member that the size or the area of activity of the manufacturer neither influence evaluations of food additives carried out by the Scientific Committee on Food, nor will they influence future evaluations of substances for use as ingredients in food supplements.

26 April 2001