FDA Issues Midnight Go-ahead for Potentially Harmful Stevia Sweetener

Statement of CSPI Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson


Shame on the Food and Drug Administration for its midnight decision to accept industry's contention that rebaudioside A, a sweetener extracted from the herb Stevia, is "generally recognized as safe," or GRAS. That "general recognition" of safety certainly doesn't extend to the UCLA scientists who concluded that rebaudioside A is inadequately tested in terms of cancer and caused mutations in some laboratory tests. It is far too soon to allow this substance in the diet sodas and juice drinks consumed by millions of people. It looks like this is President Bush's parting gift to the soda industry.

If President-Elect Obama's transition team is making a list of last-minute Bush Administration regulatory actions that warrant reversal on January 20, this needs to be added to the list. The FDA has had a poor track record when it comes to allowing companies to market dubious ingredients, such as the stomach-churning fake-fat olestra and the anaphylaxis-causing Quorn mycoprotein. The FDA's refusal to regulate BPA, the apparent endocrine-disrupting substance in some plastics, is another example.

Congress and the Obama Administration should strengthen the law that allows companies to simply declare on their own that new additives are "generally recognized as safe" and just start marketing them, even without notifying the FDA and public. Those decisions are reviewed too casually by the all-too-passive FDA.

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