Chances are you have never heard of brominated vegetable oil (BVO), or at least not until recently.
I know I hadn’t, but then I tend to avoid foods with ingredient lists that read like Russian novels. It turns out to be the same chemical used in flame retardants. Studies have shown that BVO can build up in human tissue and lead to lesions, memory loss and nerve disorders. It can also compete with iodine in the body. So, unless you are concerned about spontaneous human combustion, there is really no good reason to be ingesting this stuff.
Brominated vegetable oils were approved for use in soft drinks by the FDA in 1977 at a level of 15 parts per-million (PPM) for the purpose of stabilizing artificial flavorings. They have been found in roughly 10 percent of all soft drinks. That was until recently when Coca-Cola, following the lead of its rival Pepsi-Cola, removed the ingredient from its Powerade sports drink after Pepsi removed it from Gatorade.
The moves came after a petition on Change.org questioned why this ingredient was contained in a drink that was being marketed to health-conscious consumers. The petition was started by 15-year-old Sarah Kavanaugh and received more than 200,000 signatures.
According to Kavanugh, “A couple months ago, I found out that one of my favorite drinks, Gatorade’s Orange, contained brominated vegetable oil (BVO). According to Scientific American and other news reports, BVO is patented as a flame retardant and has been banned in Europe and Japan. So I started a Change.org petition asking Gatorade to stop using it. More than 200,000 people signed my petition on Change.org and we won! But I learned that BVO is also in other drinks, like Powerade’s red fruit punch that is actually sold in my school!”
So, she went back and started another petition, this one asking Coke to remove the ingredient from Powerade. By the time the second petition had reached 50,000 signatures, Coca-Cola had already responded.
This blog appeared in Coca-Cola’s corporate website.
“At The Coca-Cola Co., we are committed to evolving our beverages and portfolio options through ongoing innovation. As a part of this commitment, The Coca-Cola Co. is transitioning from the use of brominated vegetable oil (BVO) to sucrose acetate isobutyrate (SAIB) and/or glycerol ester of rosin (singly or in-combination). The global transition will be made across a variety of formulas from ready-to-drink (bottles and cans) to fountain machines. This transition allows us to become consistent with the ingredients we use throughout the world.”
The posting states that the transition of Powerade Fruit Punch and Powerade Strawberry Lemonade bottle varieties has already occurred and that various other citrus-flavored products will transition away from BVO by the end of this year.
This is a great example of the power of public opinion in an open society, empowered by the connectivity and information–sharing potential of the Internet. It only works, however, if companies are open and transparent about their ingredients, methods and processes.
If they are allowed to maintain secrecy, as some are today, regarding the inclusion of controversial ingredients, such as those derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs), there is no opportunity for an informed public to take action on its own behalf.
Image credit: Coca-Cola Co.
RP Siegel, PE, is an inventor, consultant and author. He writes for numerous publications including Justmeans, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, and Energy Viewpoints. He co-wrote the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining romp that is currently being adapted for the big screen. Now available on Kindle.
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