Stevia: A Bitter/Sweet Story

Wills, D. and Bisset, K., ‘Stevia: A Bitter/Sweet Story’ in Wills, D., (ed.) Beatdom Vol. 2 (City of Recovery Press: Dundee, 2008)

Stevia: A Bitter/Sweet Story

By Kirsty Bisset and David S Wills

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Notes from the editors…

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From Ms. Bisset…

What’s this? Yet another example of corporations wielding their unlimited power to ban substances that threaten their wealth. Why you ask? Of course, they are branded ‘unsafe’.

Is this worse than the conspiracy to outlaw cannabis?

Another to add the heap of injustices left to the public, in order for a corporation to maximise profits.  Hmm, does anyone else feel this might be wrong? If so, why as usual, is so little heard on the matter?

A good example of out of sight, out of mind; nothing much is heard within the confines of mainstream media because it is not within their interests and they are restricted by their loyalties to supporters. The aim of this, and subsequent articles on similar topics is to raise public awareness, and to encourage people to think about everything they are told, to question why they are being sold certain drugs, food products, clothes, values, and to decide for themselves what is right.  Morality and legality seemingly parted ways some time ago. What we are told is wrong is not always the case, but simply corporations using their influence upon ruling bodies to get their own way.

From Mr. Wills…

An aged hippy-poet friend of mine, Mark, and his Anglo-Franco wife, Felicite, invited me to breakfast one day. The three reasons for my visit were: firstly, breakfast, but also to help Felicite get her old laptop online, and to raid Mark’s Ventura-come-library.

I was living on an organic farm in the surprisingly liberal community of San Luis Obispo, Ca., at the time, and had left my entire book collection back home in Scotland, so I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to raid Mark’s books. We sat in the old wagon and rapped poetry back and forth and talked about literature and drugs and life – the usual. I picked out a Blake collection, Danny Sugerman’s Wonderland Avenue, William A. Henry III’s In Defence of Elitism, Wilderness: The Lost Writings of Jim Morrison, Thomas A Harris’ I’m OK – You’re OK and Bruce Eisner’s ecstasy: The MDMA Story.

After borrowing the books, we all sat down to breakfast. It was Sunday, and we were not working until mid-afternoon. Their place consisted of an eight-by-ten foot ‘barn’ and two ancient campervans, all positioned to create a little garden in the middle, shielded from the life of the farm, and wind, and cornered in by bushes, over the top of which we could see Hollister Peak and several other of the Nine Sisters mountain range, in front of which ran an occasional charge of horses.

Felicite was in her mid-seventies, and had recently taken a bad fall and struggled with mobility, but while Mark and I went a found an old picnic table, and brought it into the middle of the sun-drenched garden, she managed to put together a wonderful breakfast of tea, pancakes, butter, strawberries, goat yoghurt, seven-seed mix and syrup.

“Now,” Felicite said in her quiet, yet somehow motherly voice, which had a strong English accent despite her having spent the last few decades living around America and Southern France, “First you put the butter on the cakes. Then you put the syrup on the butter. Then you put the yoghurt on the syrup. Then you put the strawberries on the yoghurt. That’s the only way to do it. Sometimes Mark and I, we talk with our breakfast and forget, and it’s never quite right if you do it any other way.”

Felicite, quiet though she was, and retiring though she was around others, was pretty bossy with Mark, and fairly straight with me by this stage, having known her for a few weeks. She demanded Mark pour the tea. He did.

We were eating the pancakes and sipping the tea, and talking as usual of thrift stores and bargains and the usual ways to make life better and easier, when Mark suddenly jumped up, that flash of inspiration coming to his eyes like I’d seen on a few occasions, and he ran off to the campervan with the kitchen area. He returned momentarily with a small shaker of white powder.

“Stevia,” he said. “You ever heard of it? It’s a sugar substitute.”

“No it’s not!” Felicite cried.

“Babe, like, it is.”

“No. It’s not a substitute.”

“Babe, it is.”

“No, it’s not, it’s real. It’s like sugar, but different, and better for you.”

“David, like, stevia is a naturally occurring plant, man. You dig? It’s, like, way sweeter than sugar, and it tastes better, but it’s illegal. But it’s good for you.”

“It’s got no calories!” Felicite added. “And it doesn’t harm your teeth.”

“See, the government don’t want us to have it. They shut down stores that sell it, and burn plants when people grow it. They even burned books about stevia that some guy had.”

That breakfast with Mark and Felicite was the first time I ever heard of stevia. I tried it with Honeybush Tea, and I liked it. It was exactly as Mark described – similar to sugar, but way stronger and with a slightly different taste. But I never fully believed what he said. Mark is a great guy, and nobody can deny that, but even he will admit he’s “burned his brain out” with drugs. He has become paranoid and eccentric, though not to great extents. He is a little unusual, but it’s more like a slight exaggeration of characteristics than anything too out there.

So when he told me about stevia, I knew there was truth behind what he said, but I assumed it was more like he’d gotten the wrong end of the stick and taken the idea too far. He often railed against many governmental or corporate conspiracies, and I don’t doubt that he’s often right, but I do doubt how right he is.

Yet I was intrigued enough to go straight home and Google stevia. If nothing else, part of me wondered what I had just taken. I know that the US government is fucked up enough to allow dangerous substances to be legal (cigarettes and booze) while banning safe substances (marijuana). So even if Mark had gotten hold of something legal, who knew what effects it would have? And if it was illegal, maybe it wasn’t as safe as Mark’s strange information would have me believe…

So I Googled “stevia” and, unsurprisingly, was presented with the Wikipedia entry, which is what I wanted – an easy lay explanation of a new topic for learning, with links to more in-depth sources elsewhere. It appeared Mark was right.

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Stevia: The History

For centuries the Guarani Indians of Paraguay guarded the secret of the plant they called kaa he-he. They used it in medicine, in the drink ‘mate, and for chewing and eating to enjoy the sweet taste. They guarded it for they cherished it and believed it to be of some mystical significance. They documented its existence and popularity in writing that still exists today in the Paraguayan National Archive, in Asuncion.

However, like so many Western stories, the credit for the discovery of kaa he-he lies with a European – the Italian botanist, Dr. Moises Santiago Bertoni. He is said to have heard of the legendary but elusive plant in 1887, twelve years before he actually saw the dried leaves, presented to him in an envelop.

Finally, after searching for the plants in many of the wrong places, over many years, Bertoni was sent a live plant in 1903, by a priest from the village of San Pedro. He studied it intensively, and came to rename it after himself and the scientist that managed to extract its sweetness, a man named Rebaudi. It became known as Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni, and in 1905 Bertoni completed and published his study.

Following Bertoni’s studies, the cultivation of stevia spread, and it came to be grown as a crop, rather than simply harvested in the wild. By 1908, one ton of stevia was harvested from cultivated crops, and soon after the questions of export and commercial feasibility were raised.

In 1918, stevia was brought to the attention of the US government by botanists, and three years later, it was brought before the USDA by George S. Brady, who described the plant as safe and non-toxic. He also said that stevia was liable to find a market, and that he wished to see US companies capitalise on its appeal.

However, as early as 1913, German sugar-producers were raising concerns over the impact of stevia upon their own industry. They recognised the superiority of this new product, and sought to stem its use.

In 1931, French scientists managed to isolate steviocide and rebaudiocide, the sweetest natural products yet discovered. They were shown to be between 150 and 300 times sweeter than sucrose, as well as heat and pH stable, and non-fermentable. However, although scientifically significant, doubts were already raised regarding the value of steviocides in day-to-day life. In the US, a government researcher, Dr. Hewitt G. Fletcher, deemed steviocides useless, despite admitting their overwhelming sweetness.

It was during the 1960s that Japan came to ban or impose strict regulations upon the use of chemicals in their food. As a result, they did extensive research into the safety and viability of stevia as a natural sweetener, and found it to be of no danger to humans.

Therefore, in 1970, when stevia was introduced to the Japanese food market by a consortium of investors, it quickly entered everyday use as an additive and tabletop sweetener. By 1990, Japan accounted for forty percent of the global consumption of stevia, with not one single complaint or health concern raised. And in 1988, stevia represented forty-one percent of the Japanese sweetner market.

But use was not only restricted to Japan. Across South America, stevia has always remained popular, and in other parts of Asia, too.

Like marijuana, the use of stevia dates back over hundreds of years, with no documentaed negative effects on human health. Even in massive quantities it has been conclusively proven to be non-toxic, and offers not only a healthier alternative to a market dominated by dangerous products, but actually provides some significant health benefits.

Yet, like marijuana, the US government, and other governments around the world, also dominated and controlled by large corporations with no interest in the welfare of the general public, have banned and restricted the use of stevia. Using massively and embarassingly flawed data and ‘evidence’, the governments of Western nations have outlawed the use of stevia, and then, under pressure from campaigners and organisations acting in the public interest, have revoked their decisions to an extent, choosing to instead block the use of stevia in any capacity perceived to be of threat to profits of the sweetener and sugar industries (including the mighty Coca-Cola and NutraSweet companies).

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Stevia: The Controversy

There is no reason to ban or restrict the use of stevia. That’s it. That’s all that need be said to an intelligent freethinker. But let’s face it, this is a world dominated by profit-hungry greedheads with no concern for decent folks, and the average human is just ignorant enough to go with the flow and believe the shit. So to change anything, one must be armed with knowledge and a drive to fight injustice. So, with that in mind, let’s continue exploring exactly why this miracle plant is vilified by fucking halfwits…

In 1991, the United States Food and Drug Administration received a complaint from an allegedly anonymous source, concerning the safety of stevia. The source is widely accepted to have been the manufactures of NutraSweet, the aspartame based sweetener. The motivation for the complaint is believed to be stopping the encroachment of stevia upon the sweetener industry. Congressman John Kyl is one of many believers that the FDA acted only as a response to pressure from the sweetener industry. However, despite the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act, the FDA has refused to formally announce the origin of the source.

Following the complaint, the FDA labelled stevia an ‘unsafe food additive’ and placed restrictions upon its import into the United States. The reason given for the ban was that no solid evidence could be provided to show stevia was safe, which contravenes FDA regulations stipulating that a substance used since or before 1958 with no history of known ill effects should be ‘Generally Regarded As Safe’ (GRAS).

FDA guidelines also require a product to be proven unsafe through testing in order to be given the label ‘unsafe’, and no testing has been able to conclusively prove any negative health issues arising from the use of stevia.

However, despite these overlooked technicalities, stevia was an entirely banned substance in the United States until the passing of the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, which forced the FDA to allow stevia to be sold as a dietary supplement, but not as a food additive or commercial sweetener. This shows the FDA labelling stevia as safe and unsafe, depending upon its use, publicly contradicting themselves for the purpose of securing the marketplace for known harmful sweeteners produced by big-pocketed industry bully-boys.

NutraSweet, also known as aspartame, is has been shown to cause migraines, seizures and blindness. It has been the subject of several thousand complaints to the FDA, even FDA testing has linked its usage to brain tumours. However, the overruling of the commissioner of the Administration made sure that nothing so trivial as serious health problems was worth troubling such a major corporation over… And let’s not forget that in hundreds of years of use in South America, and thirty-odd years of use in Japan, not one concern has been raised over the safety of stevia, whereas aspartame alone makes up seventy-five percent of all food additive related complaints in the United States each and every year!

But hell, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the so-called ‘food police’, also went easy on aspartame and MSG. They knew of the dangers, even labelling aspartame: ‘caution, try to avoid’. But that didn’t stop them from serving aspartame containing yoghurts to their own employees in their staff cafeteria… No, money is more important than public health when you’re a crooked organisation with the power to dictate the fate of an entire species.

And perhaps that’s why the FDA and the CSPI have embarrassed themselves constantly since first they thought it wise to bend over and obey the wishes of the mighty NutraSweet-dominated sweetener industry. Surely by trying to blind the public to the truth regarding this ancient plant, whose safety had been known for decades, they were as ignorant as Bertoni when he believed he was the first person to discover stevia growing in the mountains of Paraguay.

These powerful bodies hold themselves to be guardians of American health, yet will go to the lengths of burning books, seizing imported shipments, confiscating stevia-containing products, fabricating evidence, and other CIA-inspired covert ops, just to protect the producers of substances they themselves deem unsafe.

That’s right, in May 1998 the FDA ordered the burning of books on the history, growing and cooking of stevia by a Texas-based distributor, resorting to threatening letters before the condemnation of the public, the media and ACLU resulted in a forced change of heart.

And the CSPI, desperate to back-up their co-conspirators, twisted the statements of two pro-stevia proponents and relied upon discredited, irrelevant and outdated ‘evidence’ in order to put together a ‘case’ against stevia, while ignoring a massive and persuasive body of work that supports the safety of stevia.

The problem with the CSPI’s ‘Stevia: Not Ready For Prime Time’, written by David Schardt, which is nothing more than a piece of childish propaganda, is that firstly it’s based on entirely the wrong substance. The article is based on studies of steviol, a derivative of stevia which cannot be produced within the human body, and which regardless of the impossibility of producing through digestion, is not even proven to be harmful. It is merely a suggestion that steviol may pose some risk, hence repeated use of unclear and speculative language… Vague words, Schardt.

Schardt also references Douglas Kinghorn and Ryan Huxtable, two pro-stevia scientists. He quotes vague and hypothetical statements made by the scientists that show possible counterpoints to their own studies, but which Schardt purports to be evidence of their anti-stevia views.

Kinghorn, a professor or pharmacognosy, is quoted by Schardt as saying ‘The Japanese don’t consume large amounts of stevia,’ and other such racial generalisations. His argument here is supposedly that Americans will take consumption further than the Asians, and therefore are more inclined to encounter new health problems. Perhaps this is an easy thing to believe in these days of rampant anti-Americanism, but it is absurd to suggest that Americans are all stupid enough and fat enough to eat enough stevia to cause greater, and as yet untold, health problems that would be of any significance in comparison with the masses of McDonalds and Coca-Cola related deaths and morbid obesity recorded every year.

And what health problems is stevia meant to cause? It’s a non-calorific, hunger-relieving, diabetes-beating, digestion-aiding, pancreas-nourishing, tooth-friendly fucking plant! Fuck off! Go suck a dick if you believe the propaganda. Americans already eat massive quantities of sugar and sweeteners and other shit that rots their teeth and guts and makes them fat. Yet studies have shown that stevia is harmless even in massive quantities. It even reverses plaque development on teeth, which is all too often caused by eating sugar! Surely it would be better to have some fat bastard eat a plate of stevia-laced ice-cream rather than the same with sugar or aspartame on top… But no, stevia is a natural plant, like marijuana, that could be grown and used by the common man, and so would infringe upon the corporate and government agendas that have resulted in the current health crisis. It’d be harder to tax stevia than sugar, and easier to produce ones own stevia leaves for a cup of tea than to engineer a bowl of aspartame…

But no, there’s hope for stevia yet! We still may see it legal, but only on corporate terms, of course. Rebiana is the name of a sweetener in development by the Coca-Cola Company, whose name and finances will no doubt be enough to push the legality of stevia past the FDA. No need to worry about its infringement upon the sweetener industry now, folks! Just buy a can of Coke-Rebiana and everything’ll be ok. So long as a big ole American company owns the rights to a little Paraguayan plant, you can consume it. That’s all that fucking matters, isn’t it?

But back to science, from which we’ve become distracted… And whereas Kinghorn is quoted by our friends, the CSPI, as arguing against the Japanese experience as proof of stevia’s safety, he is more commonly found arguing in favour of stevia and of the Japanese and their intensive research into stevia…

‘Stevia extracts and/or stevioside (a concentrated extract) have been widely used as sweetening agents in Japan over the last 15 years; . . . no adverse reactions have appeared in the scientific or medical literature during this period, and it may be concluded . . . that these materials do not present a potential toxicity risk to humans.’

‘I don’t think it’s that big a question mark because of the Japanese experience. They’ve been taking it (stevia and stevia extracts) for 20 years now and they’ve had multigenerations of humans using it. (To produce steviol) requires metabolic activation which may or may not happen.’

‘We do have the evidence from the Japanese that stevioside is not carcinogenic.  It hasn’t been resolved whether steviol is produced in animals, let alone in humans.’

Huxtable, too, is normally a proponent of the pro-stevia scientific community, although is a little more reserved in his arguments, saying: ‘there seems little scientific reason for the FDA not to approve the use of stevia extracts in the U.S,’ and ‘There are no studies on humans that show it presents a hazard.’

Of course, both scientists are right. And more than that, these are not necessarily the scientists one would normally list in a study of stevia, as far more qualified scientists have come to value stevia as a healthy footstuff. Rather, they are worth mentioning because they, like most of the scientific community, are in favour of the full legalisation of stevia, but were quoted by the CSPI in their ludicrous drive to validate the outlawing of a harmless plant. This is just another example of major league idiocy marring the attempts of the authorities to ban stevia.

Here’s some more:

–          The FDA using a thirty-two year old fertility study, which was wholly dismissed by its own author.

–          A Brazilian study of mice, which only the FDA considers of any scientific merit, translated by an FDA employee with only a basic understanding of Portuguese.

–          Ignoring a massive body of scientific evidence and historical use that supports the claim that stevia is harmless.

–          The FDA threatening to burn stevia reference books of Sunrider International, and then informing their Director of Operations that ‘if we wanted to make carrots (be) against the law, we could do it.’

These diabolical assholes are even prepared to ignore the studies of the World Health Organisation, who, in 2006 concluded their research into the safety of stevia, by finding that stevia and its derivatives are non-toxic and not carcinogenic. Also, that stevia could prove useful in helping patients suffering from type II diabetes and hypertension, because of its blood-sugar stabilising qualities. These facts were largely known for hundreds of years in Paraguayan culture, and obviously why stevia had been used in medicines across South America. So if the WHO know the truth, and ancient Indian cultures knew the truth, and the scientific community knows the truth, and the common man, through recent media coverage, knows the truth, and indisputable evidence has been provided by Asian experience and testing, to reveal the truth that stevia is utterly harmless… Then what chance is there of the legalisation of yet another innocent victim in the ongoing rampage of corporate dominance over government and public-interest organisations?

Well, two petitions submitted to the FDA, seeking Generally Regarded As Safe status for stevia, were submitted in 1992 and 1995. These petitions included and summarised a huge body of work, detailing the impressive array of health boosting qualities held by stevia, as well as hard evidence of the safety of the plant.

‘Stevia leaf is a natural product that has been used for at least 400 years as a food product, principally as a sweetener or other flavoring agent.  None of this common usage in foods has indicated any evidence of a safety problem.  There are no reports of any government agency in any of the above countries indicating any public health concern whatsoever in connection with the use of stevia in foods.’

Gras affirmation petition submitted on behalf of the American Herbal Products Association, April 23, 1992

‘The petition cites over 120 articles about stevia written before 1958, and over 900 articles published to date. In this well-chronicled history of stevia, no author has ever reported any adverse human health consequences associated with consumption of stevia leaf.’

Supplement to GRAS affirmation petition no. 4G0406, submitted by the Thomas J. Lipton Company February 3, 1995

It hardly seems necessary to summarise this article. The facts speak for themselves, and are almost too numerous to print. Stevia is quite simply a botanical and culinary miracle. In fact, the process of eliminating facts supporting the safety and benefits of stevia took as much time as any part of preparing this article. The sheer volume of work is testament to the injustice of the ban imposed against stevia by governments worldwide at the asking of the sweetener and sugar industries. And it is proof that morality and legality have little connection anymore, and that the governments of this world operate not in the interests of the people, or even themselves, but of those that wield the power to dictate the future of the world – the money-grabbing, immoral, half-wit, greedhead swine that are the heads of their industries. These pigs bring out the evil and ignorance of governments forced to move their hands against their people, and then to look foolish when the media and the intelligent few see what’s going on and call the forces to order. We are lied to and persecuted for nothing more than freedom of thought and expression, and an appreciation of the natural world, simply because what we do contravenes the wishes of those that would sell us dangerous commodities and rob our lands and indoctrinate our minds… Don’t let them get away with it, EAT STEVIA AND SMOKE POT!

Further Reading

For a list of websites on stevia, from cooking to growing to the conspiracy against this miracle plant, just Google the word ‘stevia’. There are hundreds of sites available, but Beatdom reckons www.stevia.net is the best.

As for books,

Take a look at The Stevia Story: A Tale of Incredible Sweetness & Intrigue, by Linda and Bill Bonvie and Donna Gates.

Related posts:

Author: David S. Wills

David S. Wills is the founder and editor of Beatdom magazine and the author of The Dog Farm. He travels a lot, and is currently working as a professor in China. His latest book is called Scientologist! William S. Burroughs the Weird Cult. You can read more about and by David at his blog, www.davidswills.com or on Tumblr.

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