BRUSSELS, April 16 (Reuters) - Stevia, a natural sweetener derived from the sunflower plant, could receive European Union-wide approval for use in food by next year, the EU executive said on Friday.
The European Commission and EU countries will begin discussing whether to authorise stevia in the coming weeks, after an opinion from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) on Wednesday said that it was safe for human consumption.
“If everything goes on track, adoption could happen next year,” a spokesman for EU Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli said in a statement on Friday.
The Commission will “take note” of EFSA’s warning that its “acceptable daily intake” level of 4 milligrams per kg of body weight set for stevia could be exceeded by both adults and children if the sweetener is used at the maximum levels proposed by its makers.
Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. CCE.N and PepsiCo Inc. PEP.N. are among companies developing beverages containing stevia-derived sweeteners, as concerns over rising obesity levels drive interest in healthier alternatives to sugar.
The value of the global sweetener market was estimated at about $58.3 billion in 2009. The current global stevia market is worth about $500 million, but is expected to reach $2 billion by the end of 2011. (Reporting by Charlie Dunmore; Editing by David Brunnstrom and Keiron Henderson)