PURE FACTS: Jul-Aug, 1998, Vol. 22, No. 6

FDA Attempts to Destroy Books
on Natural Sweetener

The Food and Drug Administration has gotten itself into a messy predicament in their efforts to destroy books that describe the ways to cook with and use stevia, a natural sweetener.

t a Town Hall meeting held by Texas Congressman Joe Barton, a man held up two books. The first book is titled The Anarchist's Cookbook. It describes how to make homemade bombs. The second book is Cooking With Stevia: The Naturally Sweet & Calorie-free Herb. The book on making bombs is allowed, said the man, but the second book is not. That man is James Kirkland, author of the book on stevia. His book, and two others have been targeted for destruction by the Food and Drug Administration, a federal agency whose job is to oversee the safety of foods, drugs and cosmetics. The First Amendment protects the right of Americans to free speech whether it's a how-to book on making a bomb or baking with a calorie-free herb.

Why is the FDA so upset?

Stevia is a calorie-free sweetener that has none of the harmful side effects of aspartame, saccharine or cyclamates. Called "honey leaf" by the natives of Paraguay, where it has been used for centuries, stevia has actually been found to offer some health benefits. (Advocates claim it inhibits the development of dental plaque.)

Japanese food companies have successfully used stevia (pronounced STEE-vee-ya) for 25 years.

The Food and Drug Administration banned the import of stevia because it had not undergone the lengthy and expensive testing required before a product can be approved as a food additive. But with the passage of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, stevia could be imported into the United States; however, it can be sold only as a supplement, not as a sweetener. The agency has not offered evidence of any harmful effects of the natural sweetener.

The information gap this creates for the consumer is being filled by three books which teach consumers how to use stevia, both in cooking and as a tabletop sweetener. They are: The Stevia Story - a tale of incredible sweetness & intrigue, by Linda Bonvie, Bill Bonvie and Donna Gates, Stevia Rebaudiana, Nature's Sweet Secret, by David Richard, and the Kirkland book, Sugar-Free Cooking with Stevia.

The FDA action came in the form of a search of Texas natural food stores, where agents removed the three books on stevia.

Go ahead -- take a stand -- buy a book here.
The Stevia Story by Donna Gates, Linda Bonvie, and Bill Bonvie (Paperback) Stevia Rebaudiana : Natures Sweet Secret by David Richard (Paperback - Aug 1999) Sugar-Free Cooking with Stevia by James & Tanya Kirkland The Stevia Cookbook : Cooking With Nature's Calorie-Free Sweetener by Donna Gates, Ray, Md. Sahelian Stevia Sweet Recipes: Sugar Free - Naturally, by Goettemoeller Baking with Stevia: Recipes for the Sweet Leaf by Rita Depuydt
The following information has been provided by the Aspartame Consumer Safety Network, an organization composed primarily of people who have had adverse effects from the use of aspartame:
"On May 19 FDA Compliance Officer, James R. Lahar faxed a letter to Stevita Company, addressing the destruction of 2,500 books he deemed 'offending,' at a cost to the company well in excess of $10,000. The letter further threatens that investigators will conduct a current inventory and 'witness the destruction of the cookbooks, literature, and other publications for the purpose of verifying compliance' upon visiting Stevita Co. for a fourth time this year.

"Oscar Rodes, President of the Stevita Company said the FDA ordered the action because the books contain general information that include history, usages and scientific studies regarding stevia. Currently, Federal law requires that stevia herbal products can only be marketed as dietary supplements without any mention of having sweetening power.

"Here's what Linda and Bill Bonvie had to say, when asked about the FDA wanting the book they authored destroyed in Arlington, Texas: 'The stevia issue, which we first reported in January of 1996 for New Age Journal, is one filled with contradictions and intrigue, secret trade complaints, searches and seizures, and generally intimidating FDA actions which, in the minds of many knowledgeable individuals, smack of a conspiracy between regulators and certain powerful commercial interests to keep this centuries-old sweet herb, which is used throughout the world, away from American consumers.'"

The glare of the spotlight

Journalist Charles Levendosky did some of his own research on the FDA fiasco, and reported in the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune, "Lahar now claims he never ordered the books destroyed. In an interview he said, 'The sentence reads to the effect that if books are going to be destroyed, we'd like to observe it.' When asked then where the idea for destroying books came from, Lahar said he wouldn't answer. "

Levendosky found that the various FDA officials he contacted were very short on information, although the FDA Associate Chief Counsel for Enforcement wrote, "...we have contacted Mr. Rodes and advised him not to destroy the books at this time."

After more publicity, the FDA counsel later wrote to the owner's lawyer, "The FDA Dallas District Office informs me that it was Mr. Rodes [the president of the Stevita Company] who chose the option of destroying the books." (Needless to say, the owner of the company emphatically denies that he had any intention of destroying his own inventory!)