Originally posted at Writeindependent.org on February 11, 2012
I started using Stevia to sweeten my tea before most people even knew about the herb. I was enamored of the fact that stevia, in extract form, is almost 300 times sweeter than sugar yet zero calories, and that it did not increase the blood sugar levels, thus it could not contribute to diabetes or heart disease. Plus, it came from a plant rather than a laboratory.
At the time I started using stevia, Snapple was becoming “the” popular drink brand. I wanted to know if I could develop competition for Snapple by making a healthy, zero-calorie brand, sweetened by an herb that seemed only to have an upside.
The more research I did on stevia, the more disenchanted I became with our government. It seemed that at every turn, either the sugar lobby or the artificial sweetener lobby was interfering with this herb replacing chemicals, sugar, or high fructose corn syrup as the preferred sweetener.
With the strength of their lobbies, these industries got stevia banned from soft drinks. Lipton had already started to put tea sweetened with stevia in bottles and on the shelves, but due to lobbyists’ pressure, the FDA banned the tea and all of the stevia-sweetened product had been confiscated from stores.
With the help of the lobbyists, stevia was demoted to being called a “dietary supplement” and not a “sweetener.” Thus it is not sold next to Nutrasweet or aspartame or sugar, but in the food supplement aisle of your supermarket, health food or Whole Foods store.
Many countries around the world carry drinks sweetened with stevia, most notably diet Coke in Japan. I wondered why a large company like Coke would not be able to strong-arm its way into the US market with their popular drink.
Sure enough, Coke was working on a way to make stevia patented rather than use it in the way Celestial Seasonings, Lipton, and Sunrider International had been trying to sell it, but blocked by the FDA. It took them a while to figure out a way around the stevia-straightjacket of not being allowed into soft drinks. The way they did it was by calling it Truvia under a registered trademark, saying that it “the best part” of the stevia plant, plus “erythritol and natural flavors.” With all this fancy finagling, Coke can now call it their own product, and somehow it is okay to put it in soft drinks. Any drink with stevia in it, therefore squeaked through on this special concession that the FDA made for the company that makes Coke.
Proof once again that, if there is enough money behind a company, it can effectively block competition, using our government to write laws that favor the company but not necessarily the consumer (or any other company). Free market?