Steviol glycosides are high intensity sweeteners, 250-300 times sweeter than sucrose. They are isolated and purified from the leaves of the stevia plant (Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni), where it is present at levels up to 13%.
EU Regulation 1131/2011, which came into force on 2 December 2011, permits steviol glycosides to be used in certain specified foods at permitted maximum levels (expressed as steviol equivalents).
Purity criteria (specifications) defining the composition of the permitted steviol glycosides will also be included in EU law.
In 1998 a request was made for stevia (the plants and dried leaves of Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni) to be marketed as a novel food under the EU novel foods legislation (Regulation 258/97(EC)).
The application was initially evaluated by the Belgian Authorities who recommended that the product should not be approved.
The product was then considered in the UK by the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP) as part of the approval process for novel foods.
The ACNFP agreed with the opinion of the Belgian authorities and recommended that the product should not be approved due to lack of information supporting its safety, a view that was shared by a number of other member states. The application was subsequently referred to the EC.
It concluded in June 1999 that there was not satisfactory data to support the safe use of these products as ingredients in food or as sucrose substitutes and approval as novel food was not granted.
A copy of the SCF's opinion on Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni plants and leaves is available at the link below.
In the UK there are three areas of legislation potentially relevant to the sale of stevia and stevioside – these are the general provisions of the Food Safety Act, regulations relating to the sale of novel foods and those relating to the sale of sweeteners.
Novel foods and sweeteners are both harmonised areas within the EU and the controls within the UK implement European legislation.
In the UK all food sold for consumption is subject to the general provisions of The Food Safety Act, 1990.
Any food products that were not used for human consumption to a significant degree within the European Community before 15 May 1997 are considered to be novel foods and are therefore subject to approval under EC Directive 258/97 on Novel Foods and Novel Food Ingredients.
An opinion of the SCF on stevia plants and leaves has meant that approval under this Regulation has not been granted at the present time.