Mississippi high school student Sarah Kavanagh, 16, uses a year-old article in The Scientific American to back her Change.org petition, which now has 181,961 supporters and counting.
Using the title, ‘Gatorade: Don’t put flame retardant chemicals in sports drinks’, Kavanagh introduces her petition by detailing her internet search for ‘brominated vegetable oil’ or BVO.
Under FDA food additive regulations, synthetic chemical BVO (a vegetable oil with added bromine) can be used in the US as a stabilizer for fruit-flavored beverages (to keep flavoring mixed into the solution) such as Fanta, Mountain Dew, and Gatorade.
Patented flame retardant
In the EU, BVO – which is a flame retardant patented for use with plastics – is not approved as a food additive. Hydrocolloids, which form small droplets on water into which non-water soluble compounds can be stored and stabilized, are used instead.
After her Google search, Kavanagh said: “It was the last time I drank Orange Gatorade. I found out that this ‘BVO’ is a controversial flame retardant chemical that is in some Gatorade! Who wants to drink that? Not me!”
Describing herself as a “naturally curious and argumentative person” who also enjoys playing sports such as volleyball – hence her historic Gatorade consumption – Kavanagh notes that ‘brominated vegetable oil’ (BVO) was banned in the EU andJapan.
That means (1) it’s not necessary to make Gatorade, and (2) there is enough information out there that entire countries have banned this chemical product,” she adds.
Kavanagh then provides a precis of the Scientific American article, viz. the article’s insistence that such brominated flame retardants are under “intense scrutiny” globally because research shows they are building up in people’s bodies.
‘Why would Gatorade want to use BVO?’
The article also mentions links to impaired neurological development, reduced fertility, early onset of puberty and altered thyroid hormones.
“If there lots of suspicious things about putting a flame retardant chemical in Gatorade (most flavors don’t even use it), then why would Gatorade want to put it in a product designed for people like me who are into sports and health?” Kavanagh concludes.
The petition itself, which is visible here, slams Gatorade for putting “slick ads on TV encouraging people like me to buy your products, but it’s shocking that you have a flame retardant chemical called ‘brominated vegetable oil’ in some flavors”.
“Please stop deceiving consumers and remove this chemical from your products,” it states.
'We can assure you that Gatorade is safe'
Addressing Kavanagh's concerns, a Gatorade spokeswoman told BeverageDaily.com: "We take consumer safety and product integrity seriously, and we can assure you that Gatorade is safe.
"Gatorade prides itself in having deep relationships with consumers and athletes. As standard practice we constantly evaluate our formulas and ingredients to ensure they comply with federal regulations and meet the high quality standards our consumers and athletes expect, from functionality to great taste.
"We’ve followed these principles and guidelines since Gatorade was invented in 1964. We appreciate Sarah as a fan of Gatorade, and her concern has been heard."
German professor calls for ban
Back in March we spoke to German food chemistry professor at Hohenheim University, Dr Walter Vetter, who wrote a 2010 study on BVO after testing beverage samples from the US, and said he would conduct more research on the chemical this year.
He told BeverageDaily.com yesterday afternoon: “We have performed more analyses, but we do not have more details on toxicology. We made a synthesis of standards, and we analyzed some new samples, but nothing more detailed.”
In March, Vetter called for the US beverage industry to impose a voluntary BVO ban pending further toxicological tests.
The FDA limits BVO use to 15ppm (10% of US sodas contain it), but the chemical is still on agency’s interim approval list, and Vetter said the interim threshold reflected outdated toxicity tests from the 1960s and 1970s.
Also in March, the FDA told BeverageDaily.com that changing the interim status of BVO was “not a public health priority” for the agency.
Neither Gatorade nor the American Beverage Association replied to our request for comment submitted yesterday, prior to publication today.
*Updated 29/11/12 to include Gatorade response.