BVO: Cloudy Chemical Used in Citrus Soft Drinks
Last spring we wrote about the maddening report regarding the unnecessary use of food dyes sold in the US. The double standard is that the same products sold overseas are made with natural alternatives like plant extracts. How did this come to be? Because the consumers demanded it!
Now, another relatively unknown and unnecessary chemical called BVO (Brominated vegetable oil) has resurfaced as a suspect additive, as reported by Environmental Health News (EHN) and Scientific American. The chemical is used in citrus sodas and some sports drinks as an emulsifier, to help citrus flavors stay suspended, homogenous and cloudy in appearance.
This isn't a new technique--it's been used for decades except for a brief ban. In 1970, after several studies involving rats and BVO, the chemical was considered unsafe and ultimately removed from the GRAS list (Generally Regarded As Safe) and banned by the FDA.
BVO reappeared after the Flavor Extract Manufacturer's Association (did you know that existed?) petitioned the FDA, calling BVO a "stabilizer" which subsequently gained reapproval in 1977 as interim status until additional studies were done. At the time, this “interim” list was intended to be exactly that, temporary. BVO was given two years to meet the safety requirements of the law. Fast forward 35 years, and BVO is still in "interim" status and finally making some noise again.
Derived from soybean or corn, BVO contains bromine atoms. In the case of flame retardants, this slows down chemical reactions that cause a fire. And while scant studies have been done on the health effects of BVO, it’s known that brominated compounds build up in in humans, animals and the environment, similar to PBDE's (brominated flame retardants).
"There are some concerns about BVO because people are worried that maybe it has the behavior and potential health effects similar to brominated flame retardants", according to Heather Stapleton, a brominated compounds specialist at Duke University. "I think BVO is the kind of compound that probably warrants some reexamination", adds Charles Vorhees, a toxicologist at Cincinnati Children's Hospital and a researcher of BVO's neurological effects in the early 80's.
And you guessed it. The use of BVO in soft drinks is banned in the European Union, Japan and India.
According to a NCI study, 85% of kids drink a sugary beverage at least once per week and teenagers consume the majority of their calories through soft drinks, especially if they are looking for a caffeine fix, this all adds up, even beyond the sugar intake.
The list of reported soft drinks containing BVO are as follows:
- Mountain Dew
- Fanta Orange
- Sunkist Pineapple
- Gatorade Thirst Quencher Orange
- Powerade Strawberry Lemonade
- Fresca Original Citrus
In Mountain Dew, brominated vegetable oil is listed next-to-last, between disodium EDTA and Yellow 5. All three of those chemicals sound far from quenching!