The U.S. FDA may soon decide the future of what some in the food industry are calling the holy grail of sweeteners -- a low-calorie, natural substance derived from the South American Stevia plant.
Stevia has been used in Paraguay for centuries and in Japan for decades. It is currently available in the United States only as a nutritional supplement. The FDA must decide whether Stevia is safe enough to be used as an additive in processed foods, where consumers may not realize it is there. If approved, it would likely be used in massive quantities of processed foods and drinks.
There is some concern about Stevia. "Just because it's natural doesn't mean that it's safe," says Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "That's why tests should be done." Stevia may be linked to genetic mutations in lab animals.
But Cargill, which makes a Stevia-based sweetener called Truvia, and Merisant, which makes another named Pure Via, both said their products are safe and are applying for FDA approval. International scientists associated with the World Health Organization agreed that these forms of Stevia sweeteners are safe.