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Can Stevia Silence la Pistola?

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Credit: steviaworldforum

Gilbert, Arizona–Can the American consumer’s shift from chemical to natural sweeteners provide a stimulus to the Mexican economy—and help stem drug-related violence south of the border?

According to Jim May, the “Father of Stevia,” “Indeed.”

“The climate is right,” May told Bite Digest, “and it’s safe to grow.” May was referring to the marijuana and cocoa crop that many Mexican farmers grow at great profit—and at great peril.

Rodolfo Torre Cantu, the leading candidate for governor in the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas,  fell in a fusillade of bullets today, less than a week before elections in which violence related to drug trafficking—more than 22,000 people have been killed since 2006—remains a central issue.

The Mexican sweetener industry already enjoys a unique relationship with the U.S.—Mexican cane sugar refiners benefited greatly from the NAFTA agreement, and their country is one of the few nations permitted to send refined white sugar to the States. Stevia, a plant whose extract is 300 times sweeter than sugar, grows in abundance in climates that are friendly to sugar cane, and the Mexican government is looking into the stevia business model and experimental stations.

Currently, May’s company, Arizona-based SweetLeaf, operates a plant in Chile, and with the FDA approval of stevia as a sweetener two years ago in the U.S.—it was formerly categorized as a “dietary supplement”—the 72-year-old entrepreneur and pied piper for natural sweeteners believes Mexican farmers can benefit greatly from the sweetener’s increased market share.

“It’s a no-brainer,” he said. “I’m biased, of course, but I believe stevia is the future of the American sweetener industry.”

May believes the problem stevia will face in the future will not be shortage of demand, “but shortage of supply.”

For a model, we might look to Japan, where stevia has been on the market since the early 1970s and enjoys 40% penetration of the commercial sweetener market. Such demand, coupled with Japan’s limited acreage, has created an opening for Chinese growers, currently the primary source of supply for the Japanese; violence among stevia growers is nil.

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Written by Brian O'Connor

June 29, 2010 at 1:56 am

Posted in sugar

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