I’ll never forget when the FDA showed up at the Stevita Company’s warehouse in Arlington, Texas and “burned” all of their stevia cookbooks.
The history of stevia in the US reeks with politics, but now that stevia isn’t on the “the FDA hit-list“ anymore, know that it is one of the best alternatives for adding calorie-free sweetness.
People have used stevia for generations in South America, Japan, China and Indonesian countries.
No doubt, more stevia products could be available in the US, like they are readily available worldwide, outside our US borders, but as long as aspartame and sucralose are neck and neck in the money race, I guess consumers will just have to wait for more stevia products, like stevia gum and soft drinks – new products just off the boat from South America.
The First Shipment Of Stevia
During the NutraSweet® years, the US FDA ignored the overwhelming evidence of stevia’s benign and beneficial qualities. Stevia’s centuries of safe use throughout the rest of the world continued to benignly fall on US “regulatory minds.”
But, as requests for stevia increased, the FDA finally made a definitive move in 1996. They targeted Oscar Rodes, owner of the Stevita Company, Arlington, Texas.
The first shipment of Stevia Spoonful® (a blend of stevioside and maltodextrin) was imported to Texas in the summer of 1996. Stevia Spoonful was a registered trade name of STEVIASWEET®.
The FDA’s Dallas office detained the shipment of 3,000 jars, stating that the Stevita Co. could not use the trade name “STEVIASWEET” because the word SWEET implied that stevia could be used as a sugar substitute.
The labels were changed onsite at the American Airlines warehouse to STEVITA® brand. The products, now with new labels, were released.
In early 1997, Stevita Co. started importing Stevita chocolate coffee flavoring and Stevita cappuccino coffee flavoring. The first shipments passed through customs with no problems. But, in October 1997, the FDA detained a shipment of Stevita cappuccino flavoring.
They claimed Stevita Co. was selling coffee instead of stevia, even though the shipment had been previously approved by the FDA in Washington D.C.
Rodes removed the word “coffee” from the label, and submitted the new label, MAGIC®. After changing all 5,000 labels, the shipment was released.
On November 12, 1997, FDA inspectors Martha Baldwin and Pauline Logan raided Rodes’ Arlington, Texas facility, confiscating books and some scientific literature.
The crime? “Violations of the rules and regulations governing dietary supplements.”
Stevita Co. owner Oscar Rodes was also owner of the Brazilian patent on stevia manufacturing, which was distributing three books. The books described the history of this sweet herb, and contained stevia recipes.
Rodes was ordered to destroy his inventory of books, and was forced to remove all links to other websites from his Internet site.
I am not talking about burning The Anarchist’s Cookbook, a book about how to construct “homemade bombs”; I am referring to the burning of cookbooks showing how to cook with an herb.
In 1998, James Kirkland’s book, Cooking With Stevia, published by Morris Press, Kearney, Nebraska was “black marked” by the FDA for immediate destruction and recall.
When FDA marauders began confiscating copies of stevia cookbooks in Texas health food stores, the media got wind of these raids.
A national cable network news reporter contacted a Dallas District FDA spokesperson about the raids, who stated, “The agency would neither confirm nor deny the allegations of literature searches and seizures at health food stores because it was part of an ‘ongoing investigation’.”
FDA Spokesperson in Washington D.C., Monica Ravel, told a local network news reporter on tape, “We have not banned any books.”
A FDA letter dated May 19,1998 sent to Rodes and signed by FDA Compliance Officer, Dallas District Office, James R. LaHar, clearly stated the opposite.
LaHar mandated the destruction of 2,500 books deemed as “offensive,” costing the company in excess of $10,000.
The letter stated that upon visiting the Stevita Co., investigators would conduct a current inventory while witnessing the destruction of the cookbooks and all literature and publications, for the purpose of “verifying compliance.”
This was the FDA’s fourth inspection that year.
The books contained consumer information on the history, usages, and scientific studies showing the safety of the herb stevia, also known as stevia rebaudiana and stevioside. One of three books in question was The Stevia Story – A Tale of Incredible Sweetness & Intrigue, by Linda Bonvie, Bill Bonvie, and Donna Gates. James Turner, Esq., and author of The Chemical Feast, wrote the Foreword.
The FDA declared that this book was to be censured due to the title of Chapter Four: What’s wrong with the FDA?
The other banned book was Nature’s Sweet Secret – Stevia by David Richards.
After receiving LaHar’s warning letter to burn all books and literature, including deleting links and information on their website, Rodes was given 5 days to reply. Washington DC attorney James Turner, Swanken & Turner, requested a 15-day extension.
During the 15-day extension, Turner submitted a reply to the FDA’s Warning Letter, agreeing to all requests, with the exception of the destruction of the books and future cessation attempts on Stevita product sales.
LaHar’s Dallas District office orders were to keep all the shipments on hold. He stated that, in his opinion, Stevita’s products were now contaminated by current literature already in circulation.
FDA Inspector, Martha Baldwin inspected Stevita’s facilities and collected all product labels and corresponding documents. She also took an inventory of the Stevita products. In desperation to get his shipments released from the FDA hold, Rodes told James Turner, now the “official” Stevita Co. attorney, to inform the FDA that as of May 13, 1998, he would agree to cease the distribution of all the stevia books.
A few days later, Rodes received a fax from LaHar stating, “investigators from his office were coming to Stevita’s facilities to witness the destruction of the literature and books.”
On May 19, 1998 at 11:30 AM, FDA inspectors Pauline Logan and Margarito Uribe walked into Rodes’ office. They proceeded to take inventory of all products and literature. Stevita Co. employees videotaped the “inspection” – including the inspectors “marking” the cookbooks for destruction.
The next day, both inspectors returned to the facility for more inspection and counting of inventory.
Two days later on May 22, 1998, the inspectors arrived again at Stevita Co. at 3:30 PM asking Rodes to sign typewritten affidavits. They also told him that they wanted to “look around.”
Sadly, Oscar’s books were destroyed.
It’s surreal to think that this really happened, but it did.
As stevia becomes more popular, it will become more of a threat to its competition. The FDA dragged its feet approving stevia for so long, we can expect products with stevia to be slow coming, too. Once the “politics” is taken out of our food supply, stevia will be as prolific in the US as it is in products outside US borders.