by Marion Nestle
Jan 29 2013

Brominated Vegetable Oil: R.I.P. (let’s hope)

I’m teaching a course on food advocacy this semester at NYU and am always looking for instructive examples.  Here’s a good one.

PepsiCo announced that it would remove Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO) from Gatorade and replace it with something less potentially harmful.

BVO, a flame retardant, keeps keep flavor oils in suspension and provides a cloudy appearance in soft drinks.

According to the account in the New York Times, PepsiCo’s action followed soon after a 15-year-old activist in Mississippi, Sarah Kavanagh, filed a petition on Change.org to remove BVO.

The petition attracted more than 200,000 signatures, and this week, Ms. Kavanagh was in New York City to tape a segment for “The Dr. Oz Show.” She visited The New York Times on Wednesday and while there said, “I just don’t understand why they can’t use something else instead of B.V.O.”

…a spokesman for PepsiCo…said in an e-mail, “We appreciate Sarah as a fan of Gatorade, and her concern has been heard.”

…”Kudos to PepsiCo for doing the responsible thing on its own and not waiting for the F.D.A. to force it to,” said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest [CSPI].

Mr. Jacobson has championed the removal of brominated vegetable oil from foods and beverages for the last several decades, but the F.D.A. has left it in a sort of limbo, citing budgetary constraints that it says keep it from going through the process needed to formally ban the chemical or declare it safe once and for all.

I love Ms. Kavanagh’s response to BVO’s removal, as quoted in Beverage Daily:

I thought I might get a lot of support because no-one wants to gulp down flame retardant, especially from a drink they associate with being healthy. But with Gatorade being as big as they are, sometimes it was hard to know if we’d ever win. This is so, so awesome.

A teenager with social media skills accomplished what CSPI has been trying to do for decades. 

The FDA removed BVO from its list of ingredients Generally Recognized As Safe in 1970, but in 1977 allowed companies to use it on an “interim” basis.  It says getting rid of it is “not a priority.”

Animal studies show it causes lesions in the liver and impairs growth and behavior.   The medical literature contains occasional case reports of bromine toxicity in individuals who abuse brominated cola drinks.

Getting rid of it is good news.

But, as CSPI’s Michael Jacobson points out:

Gatorade without BVO is nutritionally no better than with it.  A typical 20oz (591ml) bottle has 130 calories, all from its 34 g of refined sugars.

Comments

Wow, you’re right, Marion. The power of social media never ceases to astonish me. It makes me very hopeful for the coming generation that we have kids who are this educated and passionate about where their food comes from. Good for her (and the parents/teachers/social media influences who helped inspire these beliefs).

Props to CSPI and Michael Jacobson too for being on the forefront of the healthy food revolution for so many years. You don’t see many examples of positive change in the food industry these days that they haven’t had a hand in.

BVO is obviously bad for you, as is Gatorade. But the concern about “flame retardant” is a bit ridiculous. Water is obviously another great flame retardant, but its presence in Gatorade has nothing to do with its fire suppression properties either.

[...]       Food Politics  :Removing a flame retardant from Gatorade [...]

  • kathy
  • February 1, 2013
  • 9:56 am

So, it has been removed from gatorade, but is it still going to be in Mountain Dew and other soda/pops? I agree with Ian, I don’t care for the exaggerated scare tactics.

  • david
  • March 7, 2013
  • 8:47 pm

Pepsi needs to remove brominated vegetable oil from Mountain Dew, I won’t drink it until they do

  • brandy
  • March 8, 2013
  • 12:18 am

So Pepsi is removing bvo from Gatorade, but what about there mountain dew? Or for that matter any other product that they may sell w bvo? Sorry this is all new to me but its hard to believe that the people who r suppose to make sure food products are safe for us, the FDA, has just allowed this chemical be put in our products for so long! Sounds to me that their just like our pharmaceutical company or congress men and just in for the money or whatever make them continue to float! I thought they were suppose to be completely unbiased?

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