There are no public health or food safety issues posed by popular non-nutritive sweetener steviol glycosides, according to a risk assessment conducted by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). Steviol glycosides are an intense sweetener used to replace sugar in foods that are typically extracted from the leaves of the Stevia plant, although they can be produced through other methods as well.
The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code states that, when added to food, steviol glycosides must be declared in the ingredient list by the appropriate food additive class name followed by the code number or name in brackets. There are three approved ways to produce steviol glycosides in Australia and New Zealand:
- Extraction directly from the leaves of the stevia plant, followed by concentration and purification
- Use of enzymes to convert stevia leaf extract into different types of steviol glycosides, using enzymes sourced from genetically modified microorganisms
- Fermentation from sugar (not from the stevia plant) to produce the steviol glycosides using genetically modified yeast.
The present risk assessment was conducted as part of a project launched in 2017 to review all intense sweeteners permitted in the Food Standards Code. Phase 1 of the project involved conducting new or reviewing previous dietary exposure assessments, reviewing relevant ingredient databases, and an investigation of consumption data from nutrition surveys. These activities revealed that Australian and New Zealand consumers do not have a high risk of exceeding the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of steviol glycosides. Additionally, review of ingredient databases found steviol glycosides were the most frequently used sweetener in intense sweetened foods in both Australia and New Zealand, and National Nurtirion Surveys showed that 23 percent of Australians aged 2 years and above consumed at least one intense sweetened food.
Phase 2 commenced in 2020 with an analytical survey for steviol glycosides with the objective of determining the concentrations at which they are present in a variety of foods in Australia and New Zealand. These concentrations were subsequently used in a refined dietary exposure assessment for steviol glycosides for Australian and New Zealand populations.
A hazard assessment confirmed the ADI of 0-4 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight per day. The estimated dietary exposures to steviol glycosides were well below the ADI (less than 50 percent) for Australian and New Zealand populations. Therefore, based on the current evidence available, FSANZ did not identify any public health or food safety issues as a result of the risk assessment.