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Sunday, 1 March 2015

Future of stevia - US Farmers Look To Stevia

With Tobacco Sales Plummeting, US Farmers Look To Stevia, Healthier And More Profitable

Stevia, the active ingredient found in most artificial sweeteners today, could provide a safe substitute for tobacco, according to US farmers. Magda Wojtyra, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

After gaining U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in 2008, the all-natural sweetener, stevia, has made its way into major food and beverage products including Coca-Cola, Tropicana orange juice, and Crystal Light. Now, farmers around the United States are calling for a switch from tobacco crops to stevia plants.

With zero calories and a sweet taste, stevia has become a favored artificial drink sweetener for people looking to slim down. Stevia manufacturers such as Truvia and Splenda derive the product from the plant Stevia rebaudiana. The market for stevia was estimated at $58 billion in 2010, California-based agribusiness Stevia First told Good Morning America. Farmers are especially eager for the change due to the similarity between the two crops. Both stevia and tobacco are grown under the same climate and soil conditions. They also require the same equipment and cultivation methods.

According to the World Health Organization, stevia has the potential to replace 20 percent to 30 percent of all artificial sweeteners. Agriculture manufacturers also point to the increasing number of obesity-related diseases like diabetes and heart disease that are caused by sugar consumption.

Although some U.S. agriculture manufacturers believe stevia will provide a healthier and cost-effective solution to the dwindling tobacco market, certain health care professionals are skeptical about the sugar substitute's healthy qualities. A recent study out of the Yale University School of Medicine shows signaling in the brain that causes us to consume more calories throughout the day when it detects the “energyless” sweet flavor of artificial sweeteners.

A team of Yale researchers fed mice sugar or artificial sweeteners and tested how the brain differentiates each substance through behavioral testing and brain scanning. Results determined that a neurotransmitter — dopamine — involved with the brain’s reward center will only arise when sugar is actually broken down.

“The consumption of high-calorie beverages is a major contributor to weight gain and obesity, even after the introduction of artificial sweeteners to the market. We believe that the discovery is important because it shows how physiological states may impact on our choices between sugars and sweeteners,” said lead researcher Ivan de Araujo, a professor at Yale University.

Araujo and his colleagues suggest a combination of sugar and artificial sweeteners to create a “happy medium” with our metabolism. “According to the data, when we apply substances that interfere with a critical step of the ‘sugar-to-energy pathway,' the interest of the animals in consuming artificial sweetener decreases significantly, along with important reductions in brain dopamine levels,” Araujo added.

While stevia has gained FDA approval, the FDA still recommends only a certain daily amount of artificial sweetener. The FDA establishes an acceptable daily intake for all consumer products that is around 100 times less than the smallest amount that could cause health concerns. In most cases, stevia products are “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA.

Some Tobacco Farmers Have a Sweet Tooth

Some Tobacco Farmers Have a Sweet Tooth
Photograph by Emilio Ereza/Alamy
The once-idled leaf-processing machines at a former tobacco trading house in Alma, Ga., are coming back to life. Except now the warehouse, which still smells of tobacco leaves and cigarette smoke, is becoming a hub for a sweeter crop: stevia. Approved for commercial use in the U.S. five years ago, stevia extracts are fast becoming the sugar substitute of choice for a population trying to slim down and avoid artificial options. The no-calorie, natural sweetener, derived from plants grown mostly in China and South America, is creating an opportunity for U.S. farmers and processors looking to make up for dwindling tobacco demand and sell to the likes of Cargill and Coca-Cola (KO).
Stevia may one day command about a third of the $58 billion global sweetener market, according to Stevia First, a grower in Yuba City, Calif. U.S. tobacco output, meanwhile, has slid by half over the past 20 years. Since the two leaves can be handled using the same planting equipment, harvesters, drying barns, and loaders, processors are urging farmers to switch to stevia. “I can remember 25 years ago when there were 300 tobacco farmers here,” says Julian Rigby, 62, a farmer who’s traded his tobacco fields near the Alma facility for stevia plots. “Today there’s one.”
Stevia, named after the 16th century botanist Petrus Jacobus Stevus, and tobacco have a lot in common. They can grow in similar soil and climates. Both leaves are picked, separated from their stems, and dried. But unlike cigarettes and other tobacco products, extracts from the stevia herb are “generally recognized as safe,” says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
That’s been a godsend for food manufacturers who have fought a backlash against sugar, fat, and salt as obesity rates ballooned in recent decades. They’ve turned to stevia to sweeten Smucker’s (SJM) jams, Crystal Light drink mixes, ice cream, and even Malibu Island Spiced Rum. Food makers often mix the sweetener with sugar to reduce calories while masking the bitter aftertaste from using only stevia. Coca-Cola uses stevia in more than two dozen products globally, including Sprite and Fanta sodas in parts of Europe, to cut calories by 30 percent. PepsiCo (PEP)uses the sweetener in its Next cola in Australia, some Tropicana orange juices, and SoBe Lifewater.
One of stevia’s biggest markets is the U.S., says Mark Brooks, global business director for Truvia, the stevia brand owned by Cargill. About 55 million American households purchased a stevia product in the past year, Brooks says, citing Nielsen(NLSN) data. Truvia, with a 13 percent share, is the second-best-selling sugar substitute in the U.S. after sucralose-based Splenda, with 34 percent.
The vast majority of the world’s stevia, a green leafy plant, is processed in China and South America. The leaves are picked and separated from the stem mostly by hand and processed in special factories to extract rebaudioside A, a compound hundreds of times sweeter than sugar. Truvia’s Brooks says he’d welcome more U.S. production. “It’s great to know some of that can be homegrown—it would resonate with consumers,” he says, noting that he’d like to diversify Truvia’s supply.
Farmers have experimented with stevia in warm states such as California, Georgia, and North Carolina. Most U.S.-grown stevia is now sent to China for extraction of the sweet enzymes from the leaf and then returned, says Hal Teegarden, vice president for agriculture operations at stevia producer Sweet Green Fields in Bellingham, Wash. The leaves’ light weight makes such transport economical. The company is sharing cultivation and harvesting techniques with Rigby and other Georgia farmers in hopes of generating enough domestic production to justify a multimillion-dollar processing plant in the U.S. “in the near future,” Teegarden says.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, very well informed and one of the best news for all. This kind of awareness news is keeping us updated and Thanks for giving such nice news. From this post All of got much more knowledge about Stevia. Thanks for sharing.