|Free Trade Area of the Americas - FTAA
COMMITTEE OF GOVERNMENT REPRESENTATIVES ON THE PARTICIPATION OF
CONTRIBUTION IN RESPONSE TO THE OPEN AND ONGOING INVITATION
This paper voices a concern of the Honduran agricultural sector and the industrial processing sector that is interested in growing and processing the plant Stevia Rebaudiana. Our request is that this concern be forwarded to the market access group and to any other group whose work is related to technical barriers to trade.
The FDA maintains measures that result in technical barriers to trade for the use of extracts in the form of crystals or liquid extracts from the plant Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni, which it classifies as a “dietary supplement.” This classification limits their marketing under the legal framework of the Dietary Supplement Health Education Act (DSHEA), in which making health-related claims in the promotion or labeling of such substances is prohibited.
US legislation bans the promotion of this product as a natural sweetener because the current view is that letting the consumer know that it is sweet is a health-related statement. No legal foundation exists to do so, as it is a known fact that the FDA itself has recognized that extracts from this plant are 300 times sweeter than sugar.
It is also worth considering that the basic laws of free speech and expression are being hindered when the FDA prohibits specific reference to this product’s characteristic, namely, its sweetness. What the FDA has done, in effect, is to erect a technical barrier to trade that prevents promoting this product the same way as other products with similar characteristics.
At one point, concerns were voiced regarding the safety of this plant's extracts and whether they posed a threat to human health. This situation was remedied when its unrestricted sale as a dietary supplement was approved in September 1995. It is worth mentioning that extracts from this plant have been used as an additive or sweetener for more than 30 years in several countries and not a single case of secondary effects arising from the recommended use of this product has been reported.
Despite the wide-ranging scientific evidence (more than 1,500 scientific studies), traditional use by the indigenous peoples that dates back more than one thousand years reports of use since the colonization of South America, and acceptance and increasing use worldwide, the FDA continues to classify this product as a non-GRAS (not generally regarded as safe) substance.
Japan, one of the seven world powers whose food sanitation quality and control is among the strictest, allows the use of steviosides (name given to the sweet components of this plant), thus suggesting that any health concern is unfounded.
Honduras and many other FTAA countries are interested in investing in this promising ALTERNATIVE PRODUCT as a natural non-caloric sugar substitute with no glycemic impact, which diabetics may use instead of artificial sweeteners. This potential has not been fully realized, as FTAA countries with the greatest consumer potential (Canada and US) restrict the marketing of the product. It should be noted that many Stevia-related investment proposals in several FTAA countries have ground to a halt due to the FDA-imposed “non-GRAS” status, which causes serious economic damage to the poorest nations of the Americas and consequently delays any progress in the neediest rural communities.
A direct consequence is that many campesinos grow less desirable agricultural products, ones that are linked to drug trafficking and the presence of paramilitary forces that destabilize democracies, and threaten legal and physical security in many FTAA countries. In order to survive, the peasants in our countries have no choice other than to cultivate illegal crops which illegally penetrate the more developed markets in the northern part of the Hemisphere.
We are convinced that lifting restrictions on the use of steviosides in the food and beverage industry will allow for economic reactivation of what is currently an extremely poor, large rural sector and launch the development of several agro-industries in Latin American countries with a product that is not only natural but would also improve the health of millions that suffer from obesity and diabetes in North America. Many afflicted with these diseases are aware of the existence of this product and insist on having access to this product, which has been widely used in Japan for more than 30 years and is found in at least 5,000 food products.
We would like to the FTAA to serve as a tool to revert the arbitrary manner in which the health authorities of the FTAA's most developed countries have handled this issue, so that the FTAA may be based on “Fair Trade and Free Trade.”
Laboratorios Everest S. de R.L. de C.V.
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