Written by: Lee Ann Rush
Awhile back I wrote about eight food additives that are banned in numerous foreign countries but, thanks in large part to the FDA’s cozy relationship with the US government, still used in foods processed in the United States. One of these is brominated vegetable oil (BVO), a substance originally patented as a flame retardant, which is found not only in flame-resistant upholstered furniture, but also in products such as Powerade, Gatorade, Mountain Dew, Fresca, Fanta and other citrus-flavored soft drinks, where it functions as an emulsifier. BVO in furniture has been shown to accumulate in the human body, where it can cause problems such as neurological impairment, thyroid hormone anomalies, reduced fertility and early puberty. BVO taken orally in soft drinks, of course, is perfectly safe (if you believe the FDA, that is).
Due in large part to a petition on the website Change.org launched by Sarah Kavanagh, a Mississippi teenager who questioned the marketing of BVO-laden sports drinks to athletes, PepsiCo eliminated BVOs from its Gatorade brand last year (they continued to use them in carbonated drinks). On May 4, Coca Cola announced that it will follow suit and drop brominated vegetable oil from its Powerade sports drinks. The very next day, both Coke and Pepsi issued statements that they are working toward eliminating BVOs from all of their drinks. This is encouraging news, and clear evidence that even the behemoth food manufacturers will pay attention when consumers voice their objections and vote with their wallets. (Sales of soft drinks in the United States have been declining in recent years as people become more health-conscious.)
Of course, both companies continue to trumpet the safety of their products, and neither will admit to deep-sixing BVOs because they can be harmful to humans. Of course not, because that could open the door to liability in the event of personal injury litigation. Coca Cola, which will replace BVOs with sucrose acetate isobutyrate (an allegedly safer emulsifier also used in inks, lacquers and cosmetics) and glycerol ester of rosin (a/k/a ester gum, a common food additive also found in chewing gum and cosmetics), claims that its plan to completely phase out BVOs from its products by the end of 2014 stems not from any safety concerns, but rather to achieve consistency in the ingredients it uses in its drinks manufactured and distributed around the world. Is that so? While I’m not buying the company line, I’m happy they’re finally taking some positive action. PepsiCo stated that it has been working toward totally eliminating BVOs since it dropped them from Gatorade in January, 2013, but has provided no target date for their disappearance from the company’s ingredients lists.
This is certainly encouraging news, but there’s still a very long way to go if we want our food supply to once again consist of real foods. To that end, the next March on Monsanto Day is scheduled for May 24, 2014.