PepsiCo announced this week it will remove brominated vegetable oil, a flame retardant, from its Gatorade drinks in response to customer concerns.
BVO keeps flavor oils in suspension, giving a cloudy appearance to citrus-flavored soft drinks such as Mountain Dew, Fanta Orange, and Gatorade. Safety questions have been hanging over BVO since 1970, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration removed BVO from its "Generally Recognized as Safe" list of food ingredients, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. In 1970, the FDA permitted its use only an "interim" basis pending additional study – one of only four interim-allowed additives.
Health concerns start with the finding that eating BVO leaves residues in body fat and the fat in brain, liver, and other organs, according to a report on BVO on the center’s website. The report also states:
Animal studies indicate that BVO is transferred from mother's milk to the nursing infant and also can cause heart lesions, fatty changes in the liver, and impaired growth and behavioral development. Those studies suggest that BVO might be harmful to people who drink large amounts of soft drinks that contain BVO. And, doctors have identified bromine toxicity in two people who drank extremely large amounts of such sodas. Sensitive, modern studies are urgently needed to better understand the risk, especially at the lower levels typically consumed by large numbers of children.
Michael F. Jacobson, executive director for the center, said in a statement:
Brominated vegetable oil is a poorly tested and possibly dangerous food additive, and there's no reason to use it in Gatorade or other drinks. After all, safe substitutes are used in Europe and elsewhere. It's crazy that the Food and Drug Administration has let BVO linger in the food supply on an "interim" basis for 42 years…
I applaud PepsiCo for doing the responsible thing and voluntarily getting it out of Gatorade without waiting for government officials to require it to do so. That said, Gatorade without BVO is nutritionally no better than with it. A typical 20-ounce bottle has 130 calories, all from its 34 grams of refined sugars, which promote obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.