Last Tuesday the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published revised exposure estimates for use of steviol glycosides as sweeteners in food and beverages, raising eyebrows in some quarters by revealing that industry players had withdrawn licensing applications for 15 food groups altogether, mainly in the ‘desserts and other products’ category.
Meanwhile, three new categories were introduced, including tabletop sweeteners (a major focus for leading stevia player Cargill with its Rebaudioside A-based product Truvia, due for an imminent French launch) and smoked, dried, fermented and/or salted fish and fish products using soybean source or several specific varieties of seafood.
In a letter released to FoodNavigator.com, Guens revealed the major parties with food additive petitions for steviol glycosides signed a mutual confidentiality agreement in January 2009 to write a ‘roadmap’, allowing EFSA to combine data from several applications in reaching its positive opinion on steviol glycoside safety in April 2010.
Disagreement between petitioners
But Guens told FoodNavigator.com this morning that a schism arose between EUSTAS on one side, and the other two petitioners (Cargill and Morita) on the other, over necessary revisions to proposed usage levels; these addressed EFSA's April 2010 concerns over EDI (estimated daily intake) of steviol glycosides in soft drinks by children, given the authority’s ADI (acceptable daily intake) figure of 4mg/kg by weight per day.
Guens said both companies initially removed the 15 categories last July, but he convinced the firms to reinstate them thereafter; however, he then received a phone call the day before the three dossier petitioners sent suggestions for revised levels to EFSA, informing him that the categories were again being ditched.
Said Guens: “This is bad news for the industry, and for smaller firms who focus on [adding steviol glycosides] to biscuits, bakery goods, chocolate-based products in particular. I am very disappointed that the big firms Cargill and Morita removed those 15 categories.”
Unduly high soft drink use levels?
Stressing that “the voice of EUSTAS and independent scientists was never considered” in pleas to halve maximum use levels in soft drinks, Guens said: “I always said soft drinks were a problem, the big firms wanted unduly high values for them.”
“‘Just halve the amount’, I said, and “there will have no problems with ADI (acceptable daily intake)’,” Guens added. “They wanted to simply strip out the 15 categories and say to EFSA ‘usage levels are safe’, but the irony is that the lost categories have virtually no impact on overall EDI.”
Cargill 'surprised' by comments
Elizabeth Fay, head of external relations and communication, Truvia Europe, expressed "surprise" at Guens' remarks, "since he committed his signature and the support of the European Stevia Association to the revised use level proposal that was submitted in September 2010 by the joint applicants".
“With all due respect to Professor Geuns, neither he nor EUSTAS have expertise with commercial formulation of food or beverage products or even intake assessment models. All of the use levels proposed to the EC were based on sound and technical justifications for commercial food and beverage applications, not “rough” extrapolations derived from home-spun data.
“In relation to soft drinks, the beverage industry provided extensive technical justification for the proposed use levels and these levels are consistent with maximum use levels authorized for other approved sweeteners in the EU.”
Revised use levels conservative
Fay said EFSA’s analysis on the September 2010 revised use level proposal was “extremely conservative”, with the authority acknowledging that it was based on use levels no longer requested by the applicants and on the assumption that all food and beverages would contain stevia extracts.
“This simply will not happen nor have we seen this happen with other high intensity sweeteners approved for use in the EU,” said Fay.
“Cargill looks forward to working with the other applicants, interested sectors in the food and beverage industry, and the EC in working to resolve the outstanding questions as the regulatory process on steviol glycosides moves forward."