Suspect additive still out there, despite being removed from one product

Posted by
January 29, 2013

In a half-hearted nod to consumer concerns, PepsiCo announced last week that brominated vegetable oil, or BVO, will be removed from one of its Gatorade products.

What might have prompted the powers that be at powerful PepsiCo to make so bold a concession? After all, even though BVO has been shown to cause heart damage in research animals, builds up in fatty tissue, is banned in India, Europe and Japan and its status has been in limbo at the Food and Drug Administration for over 30 years, it still serves the highly significant cosmetic purpose of keeping those Gatorade ingredients all mixed neatly together.

PepsiCo, maintaining that its products are “safe” told the Chicago Tribune that the additive had been removed “because we know that some consumers have a negative perception of BVO…despite (its) being permitted for use in North American and Latin American countries,” and added that the company had started  working on using an “alternative ingredient” over a year ago.

Last year, BVO received some really bad press due to its similarity to a toxic flame retardant, and in November, a Mississippi teen started an online petition to have it removed from Gatorade that got over 200,000 signatures, along with lots of media attention.

Sarah Kavanagh, who has declared her Change.org petition a “victory” said at the site that “this is so, so awesome. Companies like Gatorade put so much thought into marketing. As someone who loves to drink their products, I’m so glad they’re making strides to put as much consideration into their customers’ health.”

Yes, Sarah, it is awesome that your petition had such an effect, but just how much “consideration” PepsiCo has for the health of its consumers may be an overstatement, especially since BVO can be found in other PepsiCo beverages, such as the soft drink Mountain Dew.

What’s OK here isn’t always ‘over there’

While many consumers found it scary to learn that popular beverages contain an ingredient so similar to a flame-retardant chemical, the most commented on aspect seemed to be that BVO had been booted from the food supply in other countries, which means that PepsiCo has been making different versions of its Gatorade product for sale in those locations. Another example of this is the Kraft water “enhancer” MiO, which comes in a Canadian version minus the propylene glycol –  a food additive that’s banned in Canada but is considered OK in the U.S.A.

And those aren’t the only food ingredients that are considered just fine for Americans to consume, despite having been given the boot in some other countries. Others in this category include:

  • Potassium bromate: an additive that helps bread rise; banned most everywhere except the U.S. and Japan
  • Yellow 5: also called FD&C yellow 5 or Tartrazine. This synthetic yellow color that can be found in everything from candies to drinks to cereals has been banned in Norway and Austria with the UK Food Standards Agency calling for a voluntary phaseout in 2008. Because of the numerous adverse reactions people can have to this coloring agent, it’s presence must be declared on a product’s ingredient list.
  • Red Dye No. 3: Banned by the FDA over two decades years ago for use in cosmetics and externally applied drugs, this coal-tar derivative dye can still be found in foods and medications.

As for BVO, the beverage industry continues to call it “safe” based on its use being allowed in food products by the FDA, even though its official listing at the agency is as a food additive(s) permitted in food or in contact with food on an interim basis pending additional study.

But don’t hold your breath waiting for this indefinitely postponed “study” to be performed and reach any sort of conclusion. Instead, just ditch the Mountain Dew and any other products that might contain this innocuous-sounding ingredient.