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PepsiCo cuts flame retardant BVO from US Gatorade but not Mountain Dew

By Ben Bouckley+

28-Jan-2013
Last updated on 28-Jan-2013 at 17:18 GMT

A 16-year-old student is claiming victory after PepsiCo announced it will remove emulsifier Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO) from Gatorade in the US, but the firm says it will continue to use the patented flame retardant in Mountain Dew.

Thanking the 200,000+ people who signed her petition demanding that Gatorade remove BVO from citrus-flavored versions of the drink, Sarah Kavanagh said: “I thought I might get a lot of support because no-one wants to gulp down flame retardant, especially from a drink they associate with being healthy.

“But with Gatorade being as big as they are, sometimes it was hard to know if we’d ever win. This is so, so awesome,” Kavanagh added, before praising the brand for considering consumer health.

But a Gatorade spokeswoman told BeverageDaily.com today that PepsiCo was only phasing BVO out of that brand, but would continue to use it in Mountain Dew, which she then assured us was completely safe. 

"As standard practice, we constantly evaluate our formulas and ingredients to ensure they comply with all regulations and meet the high quality standards our consumers expect," she added.

SAIB fills emulsifier gap

In a statement last Friday, Gatorade said it had been working to reformulate the drink without BVO – which will see it replaced with sucrose acetate isobutyrate (SAIB), used elsewhere in PepsiCo’s portfolio – for more than a year, without detriment to flavor.

Awarded Food and Drug Administration (FDA) GRAS status in non-alcoholic drinks in 1999, SAIB is described in the US Federal Register as a pale, straw-colored liquid used to stabilize emulsions and flavoring oils in in amounts not exceeding 300mg/kg of finished product.

Kavanagh’s Change.org petition did not influence Gatorade's decision, the brand said, although it did attribute the switch to a "negative perception of BVO among some consumers".

"We identified a replacement ingredient and plan to have reformulated flavors of Gatorade – with absolutely no change to the products’ taste or functionality – on store shelves in next few months," a spokeswoman said.

Describing BVO as a “poorly tested and possibly dangerous food additive”, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) executive director, Michael Jacobson, said that there was no reason to use it in Gatorade or other drinks since “safe substitutes are used in Europe and elsewhere”.

‘Crazy’ FDA interim status
The FDA removed BVO from its GRAS list in 1970, permitting use of the emulsifier on an interim basis pending additional studies, but the CSPI claims that it remains poorly tested.

An influential 2011 article in Scientific American linked BVO build-up in the human body to impaired neurological development, reduced fertility, early onset of puberty and altered thyroid hormones.

“It’s crazy that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has let BVO linger in the food supply on an ‘interim’ basis for 42 years,” Jacobson added.

“It has long been used in Fanta Orange, Mountain Dew, Gatorade, and other beverages to keep flavor oils in suspension and provide a cloudy appearance.”

While he welcomed PepsiCo’s stance, Jacobson added the caveat that “Gatorade without BVO is nutritionally no better than with it”.

“A typical 20oz (591ml) bottle has 130 calories, all from its 34g of refined sugars, which promote obesity, diabetes and heart disease,” he claimed.

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