March 23, 2002 South China Morning
Recently Chinese government
officials suddenly banned and seized products containing steviosides,
which they called an "artificial sweetener".
Two points immediately come to
mind. Doesnít being a government official imply that you are
educated or an expert on the law you are enforcing? And two,
according to Webster's Dictionary, "artificial" is defined as
"man-made" and "lacking in natural quality". Because of both these
considerations, one is forced to think that there is much more
behind the first headlines.
If steviosides are being
considered an artificial sweetener, then where does that leave the
end product of a process that extracts the sweetness from sugar
cane? And worse yet, how did steviosides become so dangerous they
are given the seemingly glory of being grouped alongside aspartame?
The Hong Kong government
follows the recommendations from the World Health Organization,
which has stated that it has not done enough toxicology studies yet
on stevia to approve it as an addition to its "safe food" list. It
is reported that the World Health Organization does not conduct
toxicology studies. Steviosides are not on their dangerous food list
either. In the late 1990's the World Health Organization voted to
take saccharin off its list of suspected carcinogens, although it
concedes that lab rats get cancer from saccharin. Steviosides rate
high enough to cause a potential financial disaster to stevia
farmers, yet not even worth a mention on the World Health
Organization website! It is well known that hundreds of tests have
been conducted on stevia with no negative results on its safety.
The suspicion is that
steviosides are linked to cancer. Well that would be par for the
course for an "artificial sweetener" to have cancer causing claims
made against it. But stevia is not an artificial sweetener and no
tests done show it causes cancer. Maybe someone has taken it upon
themselves, with no heavy handed persuasion from a mighty corporate
competitor of stevia of course, to immerse a poor lab rat in
steviosides until out of an immune system defense, it has a
reaction. Too much of anything is cause for reaction. Ever drank 100
gallons of water a day with no bodily reaction? Dr. Zheng Jianxian,
South China Science and Technology University, specializes in
stevioside research, according to his and global research for 20
years, stevioside is safe, as long as not consumed in gross abnormal
amounts. But letís not listen to a professor specializing in stevia
research, let us all follow the government officials to their
blatant ignorance on stevia classification and join in the seizing
of a bag of potato chips that has been consumed for over 20 years
without one negative claim made against it. Can you think of a
better way for a high handed American powerhouse company to break
back into the Asian market?
The food additive committee in
China claim that this is all media hype and that stevia is safe.
Since they say there is no such thing as bad press, then maybe the
people really behind this controversy have only hindered their
plight. The credibility of science is being sacrificed for food
If the lack of testing done on
stevia is truly a concern, then why donít the government officials
ask the people of Japan the long term effects of stevia consumption.
They have been consuming stevia for over 20 years in a vast variety
of foods. Isnít the fact that Japan boasts the worldís best
longevity figures worth noting?
There are two truths to this
story. Some stevia competitors would and could use their corporate
power to benefit their own cause. And some government officials have
been caught slacking off on labeling requirements and are taking
their frustrations out on stevia products. Testing is being done on
hundreds of products to see if they can detect stevioside content.
An average cup of noodles may contain over 600 ingredients, and
there are millions of food products. Are the officials prepared to
take their stand to the end and test all products for all
If they cannot make their
theory of cancer linkage stand up, then they turn to the mis-labeling
of stevia as an additive to keep it off shelves. As reported in the
Shanghai Star, Mar. 23/02, violators of this Hong Kong stevia rule,
may face up to six months in prison. So lets all raise our glass of
stevia tea to the powerful "experts" and salute them as they bravely
save us from a sweeter life.