A new report highlights a number of problems associated with the cultivation of Stevia-based sweeteners, including the violation of the rights of indigenous peoples.
Over the last several years there has been an increase in individuals opting out of the use of traditional sugar as a sweetener in favor of healthier alternatives.
One of these sugar alternatives is Stevia, which is derived from the plant species Stevia rebaudiana.
Despite the benefits of Stevia, a new report published by a coalition of Non Governmental Organizations highlights the unsustainable practices associated with the use of Stevia-derived sweeteners.
The Commercialisation of Stevia-Derived Sweeteners, a Case of Violation of Indigenous Rights, Misleading Marketing, and Controversial Biosynthetic Production.”
The report says the basis for the commercialization of Stevia sweeteners comes from traditional knowledge of the Guaraní people in Paraguay and Brazil and accuses corporations of profiting from this knowledge without the consent or compensation of the Guaraní.
“The report, The Bittersweet Taste of Stevia, points out that the rights of indigenous peoples, enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), as well as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and its Nagoya Protocol, are neglected when Stevia-derived steviol glycosides, which are ‘high-intensity sweeteners’ used to sweeten products such as diet soda drinks, are produced and marketed today. ‘The ongoing commercial use of Ka’a He’e is an act of cruel piracy,’ says the Guaraní leader Luis Arce, referring to the traditional name of Stevia rebaudiana.”
Also highlighted in the report is the misleading marketing by companies which sweeten products with steviol glycosides, the active compounds in Stevia. Although Stevia products are labeled as “natural” or emphasize the use of the plant by the Guaraní, the report says this is misleading to consumers because the traditional use of the plant includes the whole leaves, not simply the steviol glycosides. In fact, the report states that the production of steviol glycosides has been monopolized by a handful of companies who now control 50% of production.
Another side effect of the growth of the Stevia industry is a race to produce steviol glycosides via synthetic biology or SynBio, rather than extracting them from leaves. The report warns that if SynBio steviol glycosides are commercialized it could lead to “severe negative impacts on small farmers” growing Stevia. There is also the question of whether or not Stevia products produced through SynBio will be labeled as such. This race is being led by Evolva (CH), Stevia First (US), and DSM (NL).
Finally, the report asks the producers and users of steviol glycosides to “commit to a mediated engagement with the Guaraní to agree how to share the benefits of the commercialization of steviol glycosides in a fair and equitable manner.” The organizations call on governments and sellers to end misleading advertisements and conduct independent socio-economic impact assessments before producing or marketing steviol glycosides based on synthetic biology.