Top beverage makers bow to consumer pressure, but need to go a lot further

Posted by
May 8, 2014



It’s yet another example of the power of consumer activism.

But don’t start applauding just yet – because it’s not all it’s cracked up to be from a health standpoint.

First, the good news: At long last, both of the nation’s leading soft-drink conglomerates, Pepsi and Coke have announced their intentions to get the brominated vegetable oil (BVO) out of their products. And it’s quite evident the decision was in response to consumer pressure, with petitions launched on the website by Sarah Kavanagh, a Mississippi teen, getting much of the credit.

Encouraged by how her original petition amassed more than 200,000 signatures and convinced Pepsico to remove the additive from one of its Gatorade products, Kavanagh launched another one aimed at getting the additive out of Coca-Cola’s Powerade.

The ensuing pressure – augmented by television’s Dr. Oz, who called BVO his “number one shocking health threat in your food” – seems to have galvanized both companies to finally start taking steps to get rid of this unhealthy ingredient, which is already banned by the European Union, India and Japan. (Interestingly enough, Coca-Cola was quoted in the media as saying it’s working to remove BVO from all its products to be more consistent in the ingredients it uses around the world.)

The products that will be affected by this decision include the soft drinks Fanta and Fresca, put out by Coke, and Pepsi’s Mountain Dew and Amp energy drinks.

Right now, BVO is ranked No. 7 on Food Identity Theft’s “top ten list of food additives to avoid.” It will stay there for the time being, until it’s actually been removed from the products in question.

But what makes this harmless-sounding ingredient so bad?

The rap sheet on BVO

It isn’t just that BVO is used as a flame retardant, which Kavanagh noted in her petition and which alarmed a lot of consumers. As we previously reported, this additive, which is used to keep beverages from appearing cloudy, accumulates in fatty tissue and has been shown to cause heart damage in research animals. In fact, it has never actually been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, where its status has been in limbo for more than three decades.

And if that’s not enough, it was described this week by the website Marketing Daily as “a synthetic chemical formed by bonding vegetable oil to bromine,” which is “a heavy, volatile, mobile, dangerous reddish-brown liquid,” according to

Then there’s this from the holistic website “All bromines are endocrine disruptors (that) can also interfere with iodine absorption by the thyroid, breast tissue and prostate tissue, causing nutritional deficiencies which can promote cancer.”

There’s also a frightening bit of information that was provided by Food Identity Theft in a blog posted here at the end of 2011:

“While the FDA has set a ‘safe limit’ for BVO at 15 parts per million, (an) Environmental Health News article describes several cases of bromine poisoning in humans following BVO-containing soda binges, including a 1997 report of ‘severe bromine intoxication’ in a patient who drank two or more liters of orange sodas every day.” (See more here.)

In other words, this innocent-sounding additive is nothing that the FDA should ever have allowed to be added to beverages in the first place.

But despite its safety status having remained in limbo all these years   — and a lawsuit that Citizens for Health Board Chair Jim Turner and Michael Jacobson, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), filed against the FDA to prohibit BVO use back in the 1970s – the federal regulators have still not taken steps to order its removal from food (or more specifically, beverages).

Now for the bad news

And that’s why the influence that conscientious consumers like Sarah Kavanagh and those who supported her have had on industry decision-making is so significant – and why we need more efforts like hers to get food companies to stop putting harmful ingredients in the products that millions of us buy every day. And unfortunately  –and here’s where the bad news comes in — those may well include the ingredient that Pepsi and Coke are planning on substituting for BVO, sucrose acetate isobutyrate.

Just as we suspected might be the case, there are some health concerns regarding this additive as well. According to, a study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology found that dogs fed this chemical “showed enlarged livers and altered liver enzyme function.” It further noted that scientific studies have found that this particular chemical, “when ingested by humans, is largely exhaled,” indicating that it “enters the blood supply upon being ingested orally and then makes its way to the lungs.”

So here’s a suggestion for the beverage manufacturers: When you do get around to removing the BVO, don’t replace it with anything.  While the result might not look that appealing, you can put something on the label about the how the cloudy appearance shows that no stabilizers or “separation” chemicals have been added.

And while you’re at it, get rid of the high fructose corn syrup (Mountain Dew, Fanta, Amp Energy Drink) and the neurotoxic artificial sweetener aspartame (Fresca).

In other words, if you’re going to bow to consumer demands for healthier products, don’t do it in a half-baked sort of way.