IT HAS been touted as a healthy, natural sweetener but according to the law, stevia cannot be used. In fact, one may face legal action if caught selling stevia in any form, says the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).
On July 26, FSSAI issued a notification clarifying that stevia is not a food item. However, currently a scientific panel in FSSAI is considering whether stevia can be approved as a food item.
Stevia leaves contain stevioside, which is 300 times sweeter than sugar.
The notification has irked the stevia industry. Saurabh Agrawal, CEO of India Stevia Association, asks, “Why was stevia allowed in the market for the past so many years if is unapproved?” FSSAI is well aware of its presence in the market, he adds. Dhir Singh, assistant director general of Prevention for Food Adulteration, refused to comment on the issue. The industry suspects the hand of the lobby backing aspartame, an approved artificial sweetener, behind the non-approval of stevia. Artificial sweeteners have been mired in controversy as some of them have been found to be carcinogenic (‘No to natural sweetener’, Down To Earth, October 1-15, 2010).
S S Agrawal, pharmacologist at the Delhi Institute of Pharmacy and Research, asks, “Why only stevia is being targeted when so many other unapproved food items are available in the market?” He says, “FSSAI should give a scientific reason for not allowing stevia.”
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