On Friday, January 25, PepsiCo announced that it would be removing the controversial chemical brominated vegetable oil (BVO) from its citrus Gatorade flavors.
BVO is a mixture of vegetable oil derived from either corn or soy and bromine, and it is used as an emulsifier to stop the citrus flavoring from separating from the drink and floating to the surface. However, it was first created and patented as a flame retardant, not a food additive. It is also banned in Europe and Japan. The US FDA reviewed the chemical back in the 70’s and called for further testing, but it never carried those tests out. BVO can cause dangerous side effects due to the toxicity of bromine. When people ingest bromine it displaces iodine, and an iodine deficiency can result in increased cancer risks in the breasts, thyroid, ovaries, and prostate. Bromine also acts as a central nervous system depressant and cause neurological disorders.
The company began looking for a substitute after receiving complaints about the use of the chemical last year. More recently, a petition on Change.org from Mississippi high school student, Sarah Kavanagh, caught the company’s awareness. The new ingredient, sucrose acetate isobutyrate, will gradually replace BVO over the next few months in many Gatorade flavors including orange, citrus cooler and lemonade.
Some other PepsiCo products, such as Mountain Dew and Diet Mountain Dew, also contain BVO; however, the company does not plan on exchanging the chemical in those products anytime soon. Both Mountain Dew and its Diet counterpart bring in over $1 billion annually, so for now only Gatorade is being affected, though PepsiCo claims that it is always checking its drink formulas to make sure the products meet high standards.
PepsiCo isn’t the only company guilty of using BVO, however. Coca-Cola uses the chemical in its Orange Fanta, Fresca, and Powerade, while the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group uses it in Sunkist Soda and Squirt. So far, neither company has followed PepsiCo’s suit in phasing out the dangerous chemical, but instead, each company has defended its use, claiming BVO improves the products by preventing the separation of flavors.
For now, only Gatorade will be switching its ingredients, but several consumers hope other companies, or even the FDA, will follow suit.
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