The South American herb stevia, which is used as a natural sweetener, has been called an “unsafe food additive” by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The FDA sent a letter to Hain Celestial Group Inc, maker of Celestial Seasonings herbal teas, saying the stevia used in some of their teas may be dangerous to blood sugar and reproductive, cardiovascular, and renal systems.
Stevia is several hundred times sweeter than sugar, and has no calories. Though it’s approved as a dietary supplement in the United States, it is not approved as a food additive. A dozen other countries, including Japan, China, and Brazil, have approved the sweetener however.
Beverage giants including Coca-Cola Co. are eyeing stevia as a new low-calorie sweetener, but while the FDA has received requests to use stevia in food, they say "data and information necessary to support the safe use have been lacking."
The Center for Science in the Public Interest also believes that data is lacking to support the safety of stevia in food.
Coca-Cola and Cargill Inc. are working to prove the safety of the herb, but in the meantime, Hain plans to change their stevia-containing teas’ labels to state that they are supplements, not foods.
Hain Celestial Group, Inc., Warning Letter August 17, 2007
Reuters September 18, 2007