Gatorade to remove Brominated Vegetable Oil- ingredient used in flame retardant “BVO”

Brominated vegetable oil, a synthetic chemical that has been patented in Europe as a flame retardant, will no longer double as an ingredient in Gatorade sports drinks.

Molly Carter, a spokeswoman for Gatorade owner PepsiCo Inc., said the company has been considering the move for more than a year, working on a way to take out the ingredient without affecting the flavor of the drink.

A recent petition on Change.org to drop the chemical – which has more than 200,000 supporters – did not inspire the decision, Carter said, though she acknowledged that consumer feedback was the main impetus.

In the petition, posted by Sarah Kavanagh of Hattiesburg, Miss., “BVO” is described as banned in Japan and theEuropean Union.

The effort quotes a Scientific American article suggesting that “BVO could be building up in human tissues” and that studies on mice have shown “reproductive and behavioral problems” linked to large doses of the chemical.

The reformulated Gatorade flavors “will start rolling out in the next few months,” Carter said.

There’s no hard date for the launch because “we’re not recalling Gatorade,” she said. “We don’t think our products are unsafe. We don’t think there are health or safety risks.”

The BVO ingredient was used as a flavor emulsifier, helping to distribute Gatorade’s coloring throughout the bottle, Carter said. Now, the company is swapping in another emulsifier with an intimidating name: sucrose acetate isobutyrate.

The effort quotes a Scientific American article suggesting that “BVO could be building up in human tissues” and that studies on mice have shown “reproductive and behavioral problems” linked to large doses of the chemical.

The reformulated Gatorade flavors “will start rolling out in the next few months,” Carter said.

There’s no hard date for the launch because “we’re not recalling Gatorade,” she said. “We don’t think our products are unsafe. We don’t think there are health or safety risks.”

The BVO ingredient was used as a flavor emulsifier, helping to distribute Gatorade’s coloring throughout the bottle, Carter said. Now, the company is swapping in another emulsifier with an intimidating name: sucrose acetate isobutyrate.

What exactly is Brominated vegetable oil?

Brominated vegetable oil (BVO) is vegetable oil that has had atoms of the element bromine bonded to it. Brominated vegetable oil is used to stabilize citrus-flavored soft drinks. Its high density helps the droplets of natural fat-soluble citrus flavors stay suspended in the drink. BVO has been used by the soft drink industry since 1931.[1][2]

The addition of BVO increases the density of the oil. The amount added is carefully controlled so that the citrus flavor oil has the same density as the water in the drink. As a result, the droplets containing BVO remain suspended in the water rather than separating and floating at the surface.

Is Brominated vegetable oil safe?

It has not been banned yet in the US, but is banned in Japan and parts of Europe.
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Brominated vegetable oil is banned in many countries because of the known side effects of bromine on human beings.
Bromine is a halogen and displaces iodine, which can depress thyroid function, as well as known side effects such as: depression, memory loss, hallucinations, violent tendencies, psychosis, seizures, cerebral atrophy, acute irritability, tremors, ataxia, confusion, loss of peripheral vision, slurred speech, stupor, tendon reflex changes, photophobia due to enlarged pupils, extensor plantar responses, fatigue, lethargy, loss of muscle coordination, and headache.
In animal testing, BVO consumption has caused damage to the heart and kidneys in addition to increasing fat deposits in these organs, as well as testicular damage and stunted growth.

Brominated vegetable oil is patented as a flame retardant and it’s banned in food all over Europe and Japan, but it’s on the ingredient list of about 10 percent of sodas in the U.S. It’s not in Coca-Cola, but is in Mountain Dew, Fanta Orange, and in some flavors of Powerade and Gatorade.

What brominated vegetable oil (BVO) does to soda is, Coca-Cola explains, “prevent the citrus flavoring oils from floating to the surface in beverages.” The fruit flavors that are mixed into a drink would otherwise settle out. What BVO does when it’s acting as a flame retardant is not much different: It slows down the chemical reactions that cause a fire.

Safe For Consumption?
The FDA established safety limits for the substance in the 1970s, but Environmental Health News reports about growing concerns that the limit was informed by reports put out by an industry group containing outdated and, as industry-generated information tends to be, less-than-comprehensive data.

EHN has the details:

After a few extreme soda binges — not too far from what many gamers regularly consume – a few patients have needed medical attention for skin lesions, memory loss and nerve disorders, all symptoms of overexposure to bromine. Other studies suggest that BVO could be building up in human tissues, just like other brominated compounds such as flame retardants. In mouse studies, big doses caused reproductive and behavioral problems.

EHN explains that BVO was pulled from the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list for flavor additives in 1970, “bounced back after studies from an industry group from 1971 to 1974 demonstrated a level of safety,” at which point the Flavor Extract Manufacturers’ Association (which actually exists—not to be confused with the government agency FEMA) “petitioned the FDA to get BVO back in fruit-flavored beverages, this time as a stabilizer, which is its role today.”

Interim Approval — For More Than 30 Years
Today, more than 30 years (and much animal testing, including on pigs and beagles) later, the approval status for BVO is still listed as interim. EHN reports that changing that status would be expensive and quotes FDA spokesman Douglas Karas saying it “is not a public health priority for the agency at this time.”

With BVO banned in so many countries, there are feasible alternatives. And that brings us to the unsurprising but disturbing note on which the EHN story ends:

Wim Thielemans, a chemical engineer at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, said since the alternatives are already used in Europe “their performance must be acceptable, if not comparable, to the U.S.-used brominated systems.” That means “the main driver for not replacing them may be cost,” he said.”It is a North American problem,” Vetter added. “In the E.U., BVO will never be permitted.”

 

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