Stevia: the sweet revolution as a response to biopiracy
Stevia rebaudiana bertoni is a herb that comes from Paraguay and which sweetens 60 times more than sugar, with no calories. It has medicinal uses and is safe for diabetics. Guaraní indians used it as a natural sweetener, and called it Ka´a he´e.
This plant became a worldwide symbol of resistance against GM crops and patents on plant biodiversity, when it became known that Coca Cola and Cargyle had patented a transgenic version that maintains the sweetening properties but not its tolerance for diabetics.
At the beginning of 2009 it was not possible to find this plant on the market in the Balearics. As a response to the threat that transgenics and patents or biopiracy pose, Slow Food Illes Balears distributed, in April 2009, mother plants from Paraguay to various plant nurseries and local farmers who attended a training course, and who committed to reproducing it and introducing it in the local market. The campaign was so successful that it was difficult to attend the huge demand that was immediately created. Thousands of requests were attended, and today the stevia can be found easily in local markets and organic shops.
Although not opposed to research in universities and public institutions, Slow Food declares itself against the commercial sowing of genetically modified crops. We are able to transplant a gene from one species to another, but we are not able to predict or guess at the result, which could be a potential threat to our natural and agricultural biodiversity. Another problem of GM crops is that it tends to select crops without taking into account the role of farmers. When pollen from GM plants spreads and pollinates conventional or organic crops, farmers are investing their work and their capital on crops that they did not wish to plant. On the other hand, Slow Food advocates that all products that contain genetically modified ingredients should be labelled in detail, allowing consumers a conscious and responsible decision regarding what they are supporting or ingesting.