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As sweetener, stevia could be ideal for India’s agro-economy

Stevia, which has earned the in-principle nod of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) – the country’s apex food regulator – could be the best bet for the nation’s agro-economy in future, owing to its medicinal and sweetening properties, according to Bala Prassad, chief executive officer, National Medicinal Plant Board (NMPB), and joint secretary, Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

Deliberating on the sweetener at the Fourth Stevia Global Summit India, which took place at New Delhi’s PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Sunday, Prassad said NMPB has decided to boost stevia cultivation in India. He added, “Under the current provisions, 20 per cent of the cost of production, which is set at Rs 3,12,500 per hectare, is subsidised by the board. But the minimum requirement would be five farmers and two hectare of land.”

But there continued to be questions about the species of stevia that must be incorporated, because the plant has approximately 400 varieties. Dr Silvamurthy, former food scientist, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), said, “Stevia has several medicinal properties, which could be helpful in preventing several lifestyle diseases like obesity. Moreover, farmers could avail carbon credits by growing stevia.”

FSSAI’s P Chakravarthy informed that the Indian regulator took the decision to approve stevia as an artificial sweetening additive followed approvals by the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) and the European Union (EU). He added, “FSSAI’s scientific panel has already approved it, and a gazette notification has been issued in this regard after a detailed study.”

He said, “However, stevia (currently usable as steviol glycoside) can only be used in the form of tablets with a prescribed formulation,” adding that discussions are currently underway to get it approved for all forms of oral use, including liquid dosages and powder. Separate nods are needed to be able to use the product as a food ingredient and as medicine.

Sourabh Agrawal, chief executive officer, India Stevia Association, New Delhi, and chairman and managing director, Stevia Biotech; S S Aggarwal, director general, Amity Institute of Pharmacy, Amity University, Noida; Amarender Singh Bawa, former director, DRDO food laboratory, Mysore, and Ashok Chauhan, founder president, Amity Group of Institutions, were also present at the summit.

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