The stevia plant is native to Paraguay where it is also known by its native Guaraní name, ka'a he'ẽ, which means ‘sweet herb’.
According to the National Institute of Food and Nutrition (INAN), the products in question all claimed on-pack to be sweetened with stevia even though they also contained other sweeteners, such as saccharin.
Under Paraguayan resolution SG No. 339/16, which establishes the quality and safety requirements for sweetener ingredients and tabletop sweeteners containing stevia, this is forbidden.
INAN said: “When sweeteners or tabletop sweeteners contain in their composition steviol glycosides and/or stevia extract, mixed with another sweetening principle(s) […] it is forbidden to use, declare or highlight on the label the word ‘stevia’ or ‘ka'a he'ẽ'.
“On the label of these products, the name of all the sweeteners they contain should be included next to the sales denomination and in the same size, enhancing the visibility. [For example, it must state] 'contains steviol glycosides and/or stevia extract and saccharin'."
The products cannot be marketed or sold in their current form. INAN told the manufacturers to ensure they comply with the country’s regulation earlier this month.
Controls to continue
INAN did not respond to requests from FoodNavigator-LATAM regarding the names of the manufacturers and products in question in time for publication of this article.
However, Patricia Maldonado, director of registration and food qualifications at INAN, said while the products were safe for consumption, they were required to conform with rules on labeling.
A statement by INAN said such food label controls would continue in order to prevent consumers from being misled.
“Food labels are one of the most important and direct means to transmit information to the consumer about the identity, ingredients and nutritional value [of products],” it said.
Capaste slams misleading marketing
Capaste, the Paraguayan Stevia Board, has denounced such marketing techniques as misleading in the past, and it works with INAN to ensure compliance.
“Another issue that we are denouncing is an improper use of the CAPASTE Certification seal that [occurs] both locally and in several products that are manufactured abroad," it said.
It highlighted a Bulgarian product made with stevia from China that claimed to be Paraguayan and used the Capaste certification seal.
China has become the biggest producer of stevia in the world.
A member of the International Stevia Council (ISC) since 2016, Capaste president Juan Barboza said at the time: ''The players in the supply chain of Paraguay and the Central and South American regions in which stevia is cultivated are convinced that stevia has entered the world to stay permanently, although they recognize that much is still to be done in relation to the impact on public policy in order to ensure that the governments in both American continents acquire sufficient information on the benefits of stevia.”
According to the ISC, purified stevia extracts are up to 200 to 350 times sweeter than sugar and contain zero calories. They are also heat and pH stable.