"Stevia is approved as a food additive in a dozen countries including Japan, Brazil and China, but not in the European Union or the United States. Yet it is sold in the U.S. as a dietary supplement, since supplements are not subject to the same regulations.
Cargill is using various suppliers that are growing the plants in China and South America. One supplier, GLG Life Tech Corp, said in May that it started building a 500-metric-ton stevia processing facility in Qindao, China.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration classifies stevia as an "unsafe food additive," saying on its website that "available toxicological information on stevia is inadequate to demonstrate its safety as a food additive or to affirm its status as a GRAS (generally recognized as safe)."
According to a story in May in the Wall Street Journal, studies of stevia's health effects have revealed potential mutations in livers of rats and concerns about fertility problems in men.
But Cargill, which handled the growing of the plants and consultations with the FDA, stands by the safety of Truvia and reiterated that it is made from certain compounds in stevia leaves and not the whole leaf.
"Although stevia today is sold in the U.S. as a dietary supplement, rebiana will be the first available sweetener ... that has been purified from the stevia plant. Unlike many existing stevia products, which generally contain crude extracts of the plant, rebiana is...consistent in quality," the company said in May.
Cargill said it worked in consultation with the FDA for three years to make sure all health questions and concerns about Truvia were addressed.
There is no formal approval process for natural substances, but an "independent panel of experts met, reviewed the science, and made the statement that the product is safe," according to Cargill spokeswoman Ann Tucker. She added that the FDA has copies of the data proving that Truvia is safe.
© Thomson Reuters 2008