Sweeteners illegally being sold and used in South Africa

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Posted 03 November 2011

All sweeteners entering South Africa have to be approved by the Directorate Food Control of the Department of Health before being permitted for sale or use, whether directly marketed to consumers or for use in manufacturing.

On Friday 21 October 2011, the draft regulations pertaining to sweeteners were published in the Government Gazette (Notice R880, Gazette No.34699 page 3) for a three month comment period. The two sweeteners, stevia (steviol) and erythritol, are directly governed by these regulations and would therefore be illegal until the comment period is over and the final regulations published. As the draft regulations and that comment period expire on 21 Jan 2012, at least until some time after that when the final regulations are published, these products can be considered “illegal”.  

Solal have been selling and using the sweeteners “steviol” and “erythritol” for some time now – these are NOT yet permitted and are therefore illegal. Another company, Sweet-a-Vita, is selling a product which combines both these substances.

Solal uses erythritol in what it calls “functional superfoods”. The statement “they contain naturally sweet fibre, and healthy, zero-calorie sweeteners, such as sucralose and erythritol” is found on page 1 of the brochure downloaded from http://www.solaltech.com/ff_brochure_web. pdf and on page 1 of another document downloaded from http://www .solaltech.com/September%202011%20Functional%20Foods%20Booklet.pdf.

Stevia powder is found at: http://www.solaltech.com/new/shop/index.php?act=viewProd&productId=5211 and stevia sachets are found at http://www.solaltech.com/new/shop/index.php?act=viewProd&productId=5199

Sweet-a-Vita go one step further, claiming on their website that “[t]he distribution of Sweet-a-Vita is approved by the Medicines Control Council of South-Africa.” They don’t say that the MCC has “approved” the product – but it is possible that a company which distributes medicines and related substances has been licenced for distribution.

What informed consumers would really want to know is whether or not the facility that “manufactures” the final Sweet-a-Vita mixture has a current Good Manufacturing Practice licence (cGMP) from the MCC, especially as it clearly states on the website that the “raw material” is imported. Any number of contaminants, toxins or adulterants could “pollute” the raw materials in the process of importation, processing and packaging.

However Sweet-a-Vita also makes multiple medicinal claims for their product including that it is suitable for use in: “Hypoglycemia, Diabetes, Low energy levels, Blood pressure related problems, Digestive disorders, Soothes upset stomachs, Excellent for skin care, Weight management problems, Cardiovascular diseases, Oral bacterial problems.”

In a recent letter from a senior person at the MCC, the following statement was made about a different range of products: “With regard to the products and the claims made, the opinion of this office is that the said products are . . . a medicine (sic) due to the numerous and unsubstantial claims being made for the said products.” There is no reason this would not apply to the “Sweet-a-Vita” mixture and it should in fact be registered as a medicine.

Unless objections are received by the Food Directorate and the regulations are changed, all products containing sugar alcohols, including erythritol, would have to carry a warning that excessive consumption of these may cause laxative effects – in other words: diarrhoea. Neither the Sweet-a-Vita nor the Solal products presently carry this warning. 

What do you think the chances are that Sweet-a-Vita or Solal would stop selling their products until the regulations are finalised and gazetted?

Update 21 May 2012:

I sent the following email to Nanette of  Sweet-a-Vita on th 8th May 2012, and again on the 20th May 2012, but have unsurprisingly not received a response.

Hi Nanette, 

I notice that you are selling this product on your website and in some stores. 

Sweet-a-Vita contains stevia and erythritol. Neither of these ingredients have been approved for use in South Africa to date. Regulations are being prepared that will govern the use of these and other sweeteners but it will take possibly another 6-12 months before the regulations are published. 

You state on your website that: “The distribution of Sweet-a-Vita is approved by the Medicines Control Council of South-Africa.” This is clearly not true. 

A reader has made a comment on my blog (CamCheck.co.za) regarding your product and I would like to inform readers of your viewpoint. 

Could I please have your comments on your view regarding the selling of illegal sweeteners in South Africa?

Sincerely,

UPDATE: As of 10 September 2012, Stevia was legally allowed to be used in South Africa.

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10 Responses to Sweeteners illegally being sold and used in South Africa

  1. Gwen 15 February, 2012 at 10:45 am #

    Was Stevia approved for usage as a sweetener in South Africa?

  2. Harris 15 February, 2012 at 12:31 pm #

    Not yet. Legislation is still pending (has been gazetted for comment)

  3. Tina Collins 8 May, 2012 at 9:54 am #

    Has Sweet-a-Vita been approved yet? cause they sell their products at Wellness Warehouse.

  4. Harris 8 May, 2012 at 10:10 am #

    Sweet-a-Vita contains stevia and erythritol. Neither of these ingredients have been approved for use in South Africa to date. Regulations are being prepared that will govern the use of these and other sweeteners but it will take possibly another 6-12 months before the regulations are published. Note, on their website they state: “The distribution of Sweet-a-Vita is approved by the Medicines Control Council of South-Africa.” This is simply a blatant lie.

  5. louise Steyn 10 December, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

    Then why do we have Coke and all the other sweeteners in this Country allowed in products?? Aspartame free sweeteners surely are better? Nothing wrong with this product and I will use and sell it.

  6. Harris 10 December, 2012 at 10:01 pm #

    @Louise
    Coke in South Africa does not contain stevia. Other sweeteners have been on the market long before stevia was “discovered”, were tested for safety and allowed on the market. As of 10 September 2012, Stevia was legally allowed to be used in South Africa.

  7. George 15 July, 2014 at 3:10 pm #

    The “normal” i.e. sacharrin and sodium cyclamate sweetner tablets are used around the world without any problem. Are these also subject to import control??

    • Harris 15 July, 2014 at 4:02 pm #

      @George
      Yes, permission given some years ago

  8. George 15 July, 2014 at 4:20 pm #

    Does the notice “NON NUTRITIVE SWEETENER” have to be on the front or back of the label-or not at all now?

  9. Tom 14 October, 2016 at 7:25 pm #

    All legal today.

    Somtimes it takes a little longer for African countries to catch up with what the rest of the world is using.

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