The FDA: Protecting the American Public From Competition

The apparent purpose of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is to keep unsafe products off the shelves. The FDA fails, like all government agencies fail, because of perverse incentives.

If a private organization fails at its goals, people generally stop giving it money (buying its goods or contributing to its cause). If a public agency fails, not only does its budget stay the same, but often the agency can say it needs more money to do the job. Thus, public agencies have built-in incentives for failure.

Second, public agencies have an advantage their private counterparts don't -- the use of force. That capability attracts the attention of people who want to use force to subsidize themselves or stifle their competition. Thus, public agencies almost always wind up being manipulated for purposes other than their apparent ones.


Stevia rebaudiana is an herb native to Paraguay and Brazil, where inhabitants have used it for hundreds of years as a sweetener. Stevia contains noncaloric sweeteners called glycosides, for which it is grown commercially in Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Central America, the United States, Israel, Thailand and China.

Stevia is widely used in some countries; its extracts comprise over 40% of the Japanese sweetener market, and are used by major multinational food companies like Coca Cola and Beatrice foods. Stevia has proven to be a safe, effective and inexpensive sweetener over hundreds of years of use in many countries. Extensive scientific studies have been conducted concerning its safety, chemistry and stability of use.

However, the FDA has stifled stevia use in the United States.

Around 1987, the FDA began telling herb companies that they could not sell stevia because it was an unapproved food additive. In May 1991, the FDA prohibited the import of stevia. The FDA has rejected requests to approve stevia on the basis of its long use and extensive study in other countries, and on the basis of its being a natural whole food rather than a chemical food additive.

Basically, stevia is illegal because it is unpatentable, and no one can profit from putting it through the FDA's red tape. The fact that this benefits large corporations that produce artificial sweeteners is probably not a coincidence.

Intended to ensure consumer safety, the FDA has instead become a means for the makers of more expensive chemical products to prevent competition from less expensive natural products.

The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 changed the situation somewhat. While its import remains banned, and it cannot be sold as a sweetener or in another product, it may now be sold as a dietary supplement.

Source: "Stevia Leaf -- Too Good To Be Legal?" by Rob McCaleb of the [WWW]Herb Research Foundation, posted March 9, 1996 to Libernet.