BRUSSELS, BELGIUM — The European Commission has authorized the use of steviol glycoside in certain foodstuffs, paving the way for the sweetener to be placed in the E.U. market as early as 2012. Steviol glycoside is extracted from Stevia rebaudiana, a plant originating from Paraguay, and the extracts have up to 300 times the sweetness of sugar and may be used as natural sweeteners for the production of low-calorie drinks.

“The text will now be subject to the scrutiny of the European Parliament,” the Commission said following the July 4 vote. “At the end of the procedure, steviol glucoside could be authorized in the E.U. by the end of the year.”

The European Food Safety Authority (E.F.S.A.) evaluated the safety of steviol glycosides and published its opinion in March 2010. At that time, the E.F.S.A. concluded that steviol glycoside is not carcinogenic, genotoxic or associated with any reproductive or developmental toxicity.

In issuing its approval, the Commission proposed a reduction in the maximum usage levels for steviol glycosides which would allow a significant replacement of sugar in foodstuffs with steviol glycoside.

The announcement was applauded by GLG Life Tech Corp., a Vancouver, B.C.-based supplier of high purity stevia extracts.

“The recent announcement by the standing committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health on the Commission Regulation to authorize the use of Steviol glycosides marks a significant move forward in approving the use of this all-natural, zero calorie sweetener in the European market,” said Luke Zhang, chairman and chief executive officer of GLG Life Tech. “With the formal approval of stevia in France two years ago, a positive vote in November will mean that we’ll be that much closer to bringing our all-natural, zero calorie-based sweetener solutions to European consumers.”