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Bowing to mounting public concern, Coca-Cola announced this week that it plans to remove brominated vegetable oil (BVO) from its line of beverages.

BVO, a chemical stabilizer that can be made from either soy or corn, is commonly found in sports drinks and sodas. Used to prevent beverage ingredients from separating and keep flavors consistent, BVO includes the element bromide — a component of brominated flame retardants and a potential hormone disruptor.

As Experience Life previously reported, BVO has been banned in several countries, including Japan and nations in the European Union, and is associated with various health concerns:

Signs you’ve gotten a toxic dose include headache, fatigue and memory loss. Studies show that an adult would have to consume quite a bit to see this effect (2 to 4 liters of a soda), but what constitutes a harmful effect in children is less clear.

— “Revealing Ingredients” by Catherine Guthrie (Experience Life, April 2013)

While BVO is not on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) list, the agency does permit its use in beverages in limited quantities.

BVO gained public notoriety as the target of recent Change.org petitions by Mississippi teen Sarah Kavanagh.

In 2013, Kavanagh successfully led a campaign urging PepsiCo to drop BVO from Gatorade, prompting the company to begin removing the additive from all its drinks. She then learned that Powerade, a Coca-Cola product sold in her school, also contained BVO, and she started a new petition.

It is so wrong to be selling something like that to a bunch of kids anywhere! What are these companies thinking? I don’t want anyone in my family touching that stuff. Why do these companies put all this weird, crazy stuff in our food and drinks?

— Sarah Kavanagh, “Powerade: If Gatorade can take crazy chemical BVO out of sports drinks, so can you” (Change.org)

Kavanagh’s Powerade petition garnered tens of thousands of signatures, and Coca-Cola said on Monday that it would phase out BVO from all its drinks by the end of 2014.

The Associated Press reported that the company plans to replace BVO with other “ingredients it uses around the world,” including sucrose acetate isobutyrate and glycerol ester of rosin (both are chemical additives that are “Generally Recognized as Safe” by the FDA, but whose toxicity levels are undetermined).

Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are not the only food companies bowing to public pressure about additives. Kraft announced last year that it would remove two artificial food dyes, Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6, from three of its U.S. Mac & Cheese varieties. Subway said in February that it was dropping azodicarbonamide, commonly found in yoga mats and the foamy soles of running shoes, from its bread recipe. And PepsiCo plans to introduce sodas “made with real sugar” as an alternative to processed chemical sweeteners.

Tell us: Do companies’ decisions to drop chemical additives from their products affect your food and drink choices? Share your thoughts in a comment below, on Facebook, or tweet us @ExperienceLife. 

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