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Interview


"Stevia can be complementary to sugar or saccharine industry"
Monday, January 16, 2012



Sourabh Agarwal, chief executive, India Stevia Association, New Delhi, and CMD, Stevia Biotech, in a conversation with Manjushree Naik talks about FSSAI scientific panel's recent recommendation for approval of stevia and the current scenario

A scientific panel has recently recommended the approval of stevia as natural alternative to sugar for soft drink concentrates, chewing gums and other processed food products. Comment.
Actually, the scientific panel is quite late in taking this up. When the transition from Prevention of Food Adulteration Act to Food Security & Standards Act happened, there were no rules and regulations in this regard. About one-and-a-half years back people here received this application made by certain industries. This has to come as a general appeal. Four companies applied for specific needs these included Coca-Cola, Stevia Biotech, Cargill and one agro food company.

As per their application, the scientific panel has taken JECPHA (Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives), WHO-EFSA (European Food Safety Agency) recommendations and Australian and New Zealand Government's regulations, and come out with the recommendations. The GRS has been appended by FDA first, but later approved as sweetener.

The sugar industry is not in favour of these recommendations. So will the draft proposal encounter opposition from this powerful lobby, which is expecting a large market from the soft drink industry and others?
Nothing on record, it is a general perception. They have not said they are opposing, people are just thinking. We did a lot of research on sugar lobby and found Stevia had no kind of effect on it. Actually, cultivation of Stevia will not match the sugar industry even in 20 years as even then the entire crop can't be more than 1 per cent of what sugar industry is in India. Stevia can be complementary to sugar or saccharine industry. Stevia in my opinion is no threat to sugar in terms of cultivation and usage in production.

It can, in fact, make available different range of products for the calorie-conscious consumer. Pepsi and Coca-Cola are said to be launching calorie-conscious products and they are very much happy. Stevia will be an appropriate sugar alternative.

The panel is said to have recommended 200 mg of steviol per kg body weight could be used in carbonated water and soft drink concentrates, 3,500 mg of steviol per kg body weight in chewing gums but there is no clarity on use of stevia in tabletop sweeteners. What is your opinion on this?
Researchers all over the world have proven the use of Stevia. Japan, in the last 40 years, had not a single negative report on Stevia. It is used in Japan in 80 per cent of the food products.

Tell us more about its safety.
It is safe, but non-willingness of government is hampering as the government is overlooking the production. Government is least bothered. The Regional Plant Board basically put it as natural medicinal plant and in the priority list. It was last confirmed in March this year. NMPB does not have any objection and it may extend recommendation to the government for Stevia.

What are the recommendations by the panel?
As far as the recommendations are concerned, there is no basis in the form of their own study. It is basically defined by JECPHA and WHO and adopted by EFSA. The Australian-NZ authorities picked up areas from there only. Actually speaking, the panel does not have to do anything. It is all a part of Codex - all recommendations have been adopted, which are made by JECPHA, WHO. Thus Codex recommendations can be adopted as it is. If they have not opposed to Stevia, why we should?

What about the use of stevia in combination with additives. What is the panel's view in this regard?
In Codex, all these areas are also defined. The entire recommendation can be adopted as it is. The panel need not reinvent the wheel. If these are not been opposed in Codex, why not adopt them as it is. Then there will be no delay for consumers - especially for people suffering from diabetes and obesity it is a wonderful product.

5. Meanwhile, the new FSS (Prohibition & Restriction on Sales) Regulations state no person shall sell any food product wherein artificial sweetener is permitted under these regulations, except under packed conditions as per the labelling requirements. So how will these recommendations be implemented in the context of the new FSS law?
India is a part of Codex. Codex has everything. Why another research, when it has everything, why oppose it? When there was this restriction decision by FSSAI then why Stevia products were sold for the last 10 years? Supporting Codex, JECPHA, WHO is easy as in one day they can be approved.

How is the Indian FSS law with regard to sweeteners when compared to those that in developed countries?
There is no Stevia processing unit. Cultivation that is done is disorganised. It can, in fact, be a cash crop for farmers with 3-4 harvests in one year. It's like a cash crop in hand. All farmers can get better rates compared to the connecting crop. Give farmers the possibility so that the industry also can. Stevia Biotech is all set for international clearance from the government.

How big is the Stevia industry in the country and what more can be done for its growth?
Sweeteners - cane sugar, alcohol aspartame, menthol zero calorie cholesterol all are based on chemicals. Equal, Sugar Free - all are using that. But stevia is 300 times sweeter than sugar, zero calorie. Why chemical is approved in combination but a natural product is restricted?

What stand can be taken as far as natural sweeteners are concerned?
Nothing on paper has been seen for the last 10 years. After the 21st July panel meeting, all state companies stopped sale of Stevia. On what basis they have restricted it? Why were they sleeping during the last 10 years? Allow it fully as per Codex recommendation but the industry has been kept away. Industry involvement, FSSAI can do that. Only points are correlated. Last six years we are campaigning.

There has been cold response from FSSAI. There has been this change from PFA to FSSA, but people are not there. The policy implementation is still not clear, it is not doing anything. Not taking responsibility. When India being member of Codex, if India has not opposed Stevia in Geneva meeting, then why not FSSAI adopting it as it is? No new research is needed. Every country and every department cannot go for it. They do it on regular business. These are international Codex laws, Codex is dealing with it, but India is not giving approval.

When are the panel's recommendations likely to be implemented?
The draft is being circulated right now.

 

India makes history with selection of Apeda’s Sanjay Dave as Codex chief


Sanjay Dave
Chairman of Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC)


A wave of euphoria swept the Indian food industry with the news from Geneva confirming the selection of Sanjay Dave, director, APEDA (Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority), the export promotion arm of the ministry of commerce, as the chairman of Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC), breaking in.

In an election held in Geneva on July 5, 2011, Dave was unanimously elected the chief by 184-member countries.

“The Commission, which is a UN body for food safety standards, has created history by appointing an Indian chairman for the first time in its existence of 48 years,” informed an elated Dave.

In India, appointment of Dave is being perceived as a mark of the growing strength of the country's food industry and its relevance to the international trade.

According to a source, there was no other contender to Dave’s post and with his three years' experience as vice-chairman of CAC (since 2008), he was the unanimous choice.

When contacted, Dave informed that his priorities would be to ensure continuity of the leadership role for Codex and setting sound standards based on science through consensus between the member countries. He added that since the Codex standards are taken as the reference standard in the framework of WTO, it is important to maximise the role of developing countries in the Codex standardisation process for greater market access in agriculture products.

He expressed the hope that countries would work towards harmonisation of their food standards with the Codex to facilitate trade. Private standards are becoming a major trade barrier for the developing countries. Thus, encouraging the private standard setting bodies work closely with Codex assumes importance, he added.

FAO and WHO regularly conduct a number of capacity building programmes, particularly, in food safety areas and the developing countries including India need to take maximum advantage to enhance their market access efforts.

“Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is the National Codex Contact Point of India and the new food law is based on modern concept of hygiene, risk analysis, supply chain and farm-to-fork safety practices. India has the potential to emerge as an important exporting nation and this requires India playing a central role in the Codex process,” Dave said.

Dave’s election is expected to facilitate integration of the national food standards with the Codex system giving India the stamp of reliability, food safety and international acceptability. Dave has almost 34 years of experience in the food industry and nearly 24 years with APEDA. He is an M Sc in Biochemistry, a lawyer and holds a PG diploma in international trade from Indian Institute of Foreign Trade.

The CAC is an international inter-governmental body set up jointly by FAO and WHO to frame international food standards for protecting health of consumers round the globe and ensuring fair practices in the food trade. The body, having its headquarters in Rome, was set up in 1963 and, currently, 184 countries as well as the European Union were its members.


EXCERPTS FROM THE INTERVIEW:

1. A very sincere congratulation for taking over the chairmanship of Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC). How do feel and what messages would you convey to all your well-wishers?

Thank you very much for your kind Greetings. I consider it to be a God sent opportunity to serve mankind in the area of food safety, particularly so, because there a number of food borne illnesses prevailing in the world especially in the developing countries. I am sincerely hopeful that all my well-wishers and all who are committed to food safety will support me in fulfilling my responsibility diligently. I, therefore, think that we all need to work together to ensure that we have food standards that take care of the health of consumers and at the same time facilitate fair practices in food trade. More importantly, we need to put our acts together to ensure that these standards are followed in letter and spirit by all concerned. All will have to be honest about the work in their domain.

2. What will be your priority areas after taking over as Chairman-CAC?

I am very fortunate that we have three excellent and knowledgeable Vice-Chairs (one each from Canada, Ghana and Switzerland) and I am sure that their contribution will enhance the science based resolution of Codex in the best interest of people around the globe. I consider that we need to work collectively for the following:
(a) Enhance meaningful participation by members (particularly, the developing countries) in the Codex process. In this regard, we need to work closely with FAO and WHO for enhanced capacity building in developing countries that need this the most. I'd like to see a greater role for the developing countries.
(b) Encourage members to resolve contentious issues with a flexible approach.
(c) The CAC has approved 24 items of new work at the CAC Session this year. It would be our Endeavour to encourage completion of the work on these items as soon as possible. We need to work together to further speed up our the Codex work and prove to the private standard setting bodies that Codex, while being scrupulously scientific in its work, is capable of working fast.
(d) Finalisation of the Codex Strategic Plan for the period 2014-19.
(e) Private standards are difficult for farmers to meet, particularly, in developing countries. It's a matter of great concern for them. We will closely watch the developments in the SPS Committee and also encourage the private standard setting bodies to work with the Codex.


3. What are your future strategies, as the chairman, to place India another step higher in its stature?

My role as Chairman of the CAC is that of a neutral person while facilitating consensus among countries. My impartial performance in the Commission discussions should enhance India's image as a country committed to being fair to all.

4. What is the vision of CAC for the global food industry?

Codex provides leadership in setting science based food safety standards to face the food safety challenges before the globe with a view to protecting the health of consumers and ensuring fair practices in food trade.

5. How do you plan to decode this vision in India?

India is a member of the Codex Alimentarius Commission and the FSSAI is already engaged in harmonisation of India's food safety standards with those of the Codex as these are inter-governmental international standards.

6. What particular effort has CAC put in to control and combat the recent outburst of e-coli in different parts of the world?

Codex lays down standards and codes of practice and it is for the member countries to adapt or adopt them according to their needs and situations. Codex, therefore, does not have a direct role in combating such problems. However, based on such incidences, Codex considers development of documents for the benefit of all countries. For instance, a few years ago, there was an outbreak of E. coli in lettuce in the US. The Codex, now, has a guidance document on the hygiene aspects of leafy vegetables. Similarly, work is being initiated on other items as well.

7. What particular work is CAC doing to tackle the food borne diseases occurring especially in third world countries, where the problem especially is at an upswing?

As stated above, Codex lays down standards and codes of practice and it is for the member countries to adapt or adopt them according to their needs and situations. Codex, therefore, does not have a direct role in combating such problems. However, based on such incidences, Codex considers development of documents for the benefit of all countries. Apart of the Codex, FAO and WHO also independently play a very important role in combating food and water borne illnesses. They provide help and support through various means and also regularly organise capacity building programmes.www.indiasteviaassociation.in
 
EU Commission Approves Steviol Glycosides to be used as a sweetener in food ingredient by adopting the regulation on 11th November. Commission Regulation (EU) No 1131/2011 of 11 November 2011, which will replace Annex II to Regulation 1333/2008 in accordance with the Annex to this Regulation and enters into force on 2 December 2011. The new regulation permit the sale and use of stevia as a sweetener in various food products in EU.

This is not only a good news for the people in Europe but in a way will give immense opportunity to Indian Farmers and Processing industry in India to fully exploit its potential to grow stevia and process it to serve big European Market which will be in huge demand of stevia leaves as a 'raw material' and 'processed stevia' in the form of 'Steviol Glycoside' for its food and beverage industry.

Stevia Biotech Pvt. Ltd a company established in India, in the year 2004 with a vision to be one of a leading cultivation and stevia processing company is now getting its due. SBPL which have ventured with biggest cultivator and processor in Paraguay, South America has been working over the past couple of years in developing high quality stevia planting material and have conducted environmental tests in different region in India for acceptability to Indian conditions. SBPL shortly will issue invitation to Indian farmers in different states to participate in cultivation of stevia on commercial scale to keep pace with the demand.

SBPL has gone into a long term 'supply agreements' with stevia processing companies and also food and beverage brand owners in Europe, Gulf countries and US, those keen to buy Stevia for processing and for using stevia in making their low calorie and healthy food and beverage products.

SBPL and its associates has been working on developing different formulations and blends which are needed to satisfy the peculiar sweetness demands of consumers spread all over the world.

Now as EU companies are lining up to rollout many food and drink products using stevia ingredients and hit the market in Europe from the very first month of 2012, the demand of stevia is bond to increase.

But here in India even after complete approval by JECFA, given by WHO, US FDA, Codex, EFSA and now even EU, our 'Food Standard & Safety Authority' is still going very slow in giving Complete Approval to Stevia to be used in food ingredient as a natural sweetener.

I really fail to understand FSSAI policy, working, will and efficiency in respect to approval of stevia,

“WHAT" AND "WHO" EXACTLY IS STOPPING THEM TO DO THE NEED FULL ?” is a big question.

I expect that FSSAI will understand the requirement and urgency of early use of Stevia natural sweetener for Indian population suffering with Diabetes and Obesity, and soon give complete permission with guidelines to use stevia as a sweetener by food and beverage Industry in India.

Complete Approval of stevia in India will also boost the morale of Indian farmers to grow Stevia as a cash crop and improve their living conditions and give way to food and beverages companies to offer more and more low calorie and healthier products.

Sourabh Agarwal CMD,
Stevia Biotech Pvt. Ltd

Chief Executive,

India Stevia Association
New Delhi, India
Handy: 0091 9811988880
indiasteviaassociation@gmail.com
www.indiasteviaassociation.in
www.steviaglobalforum.in
www.steviabiotech.com

Naturally sweetened chocolate creates sugar high at candy show

Cavalier chocolates sweetened with stevia was named the most innovative product at … A sugar-free chocolate made with natural sweetener stevia received top honors as the most innovative confectionery product at the largest sweets fair in the world this week, signaling what experts say will become a wider, more popular trend in the chocolate industry. At the 42nd annual International Sweets and Biscuits Fair in Cologne, Germany, about 80 food journalists named Belgium-based Cavalier chocolates their favorite confectionery for the quality of the brand's stevia-sweetened chocolate. Overall, 112 products were entered for consideration. After getting the green light for use in Europe last year, confectionery and food worlds have been introducing a slew of products that make use of the zero-calorie sweetener that is 200 times sweeter than table sugar and has a long history of being used in Asia and South America. Stevia is also known as SteviaLife or sugar leaf. The Cavalier brand comes in a range of eating bars that include flavors like milk, dark, hazelnut, rice crisp, barley -- for healthy alternatives -- and praline. Last year, Cavalier partnered with premium chocolate maker Barry Callebaut to develop a range of semi-sweet chocolates sweetened with Stevia which the judges say has resulted in a refined and top quality product.
New Delhi India

Stevia Succeeding in
World Sweetener Market

Its Approval, Growth, Processing, Application and Innovation.

 
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