FDA bans BVO, a modified vegetable oil found in some fruity sodas

The Food and Drug Administration has decided to revoke the authorization for use of a stabilizer for fruit and citrus-based foods and beverages known as brominated vegetable oil (BVO) because it is unsafe.

“The agency concluded that the intended use of BVO in food is no longer considered safe,” the agency said in a statement Tuesday, adding that based on studies conducted in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, it found that BVO “has the potential to cause adverse health effects in humans.”

The vegetable oil is modified with bromine, a natural chemical element that can be used as an alternative to chlorine in swimming pools and is often used as a fire retardant. It has also been used in tranquilizers.

BVO is an ingredient in some drinks

BVO is an ingredient in a handful of sports drinks and sodas, but according to the FDA, “few beverages in the U.S. contain BVO.” Consumption of sugary sodas in the United States has also been declining for more than two decades. Perhaps the best-known beverage in the United States that still contains BVO is Sun Drop citrus soda, as well as some store-brand orange, pineapple and citrus flavored soft drinks from Giant, Food Lion, Walmart and other brands.

The popular drink Mountain Dew does not contain BVO. In 2014, Coca-Cola said it would remove the ingredient from its Powerade drinks and the rest of its products. PepsiCo has also removed BVO from its products, including Gatorade as of 2019.

Keurig Dr Pepper, the maker of Sun Drop soda, which is a blend of lemon, lime and sweet orange flavors, told The Washington Post last year that it already planned to phase out the ingredient. “We are actively reformulating Sun Drop to no longer use this ingredient and continue to comply with all state and national regulations,” a spokesperson previously said. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“The FDA’s decision to ban brominated vegetable oil in food is a victory for public health,” Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, said in a statement. “But it’s outrageous that it has taken decades of regulatory inaction to protect consumers from this dangerous chemical.”

The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit urged consumers to “remain vigilant and read ingredient labels carefully to avoid BVO,” adding that “choosing fresh, whole foods and drinking water instead of soda or juice can help minimize exposure to BVO and other chemicals.”

BVO is banned in several countries

The state of California banned BVO in food in October, along with three other food additives, becoming the first state to do so. BVO is also banned in the European Union, India and the United Kingdom, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group.

According to the CSPI, BVO “can leave traces of bromotriglycerides in body fat and fat in the liver, heart and brain.”.Excessive accumulation of bromine in the body results in bromine toxicity, which causes damage to the central nervous system, headaches, nausea, memory loss and loss of coordination,” the report said. There may also be some impact on the thyroid gland, it added.

BVO has been used as an ingredient in foods since the 1920s. The FDA said it began regulating BVO as a food additive in 1970. It was used “in small amounts to prevent citrus flavors from floating to the top in some beverages,” the agency said, and manufacturers were required to list BVO in the ingredients list if it was used.

“Reassessing the safety of food ingredients as new, relevant data becomes available is a priority for the FDA and an important part of our food safety mission,” it said this week.

The ban goes into effect on August 2 and gives companies one year to “review the composition, labeling and inventory of BVO-containing products before the FDA enforces the final rule,” the report said.

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