Yielding To Consumer Pressure, Coca-Cola Yanking BVOs

In what is being hailed as another victory for consumers who petition companies to do right — in this case, a Hattiesburg, Miss., teenager — Coca-Cola is following Pepsi-Cola’s lead and is removing brominated vegetable oil (BVO) from drinks such as Powerade and Fanta. 

In 2012, Sarah Kavanagh “launched a petition on Change.org to have BVO removed from Gatorade, citing concerns that the ingredient has been linked to a flame retardant and is not approved for use in Japan or the European Union,” reports Food Safety News. “PepsiCo announced last year that it would be removing BVO from Gatorade, but Kavanagh kept going and began a new petition directed at Coca-Cola’s Powerade.”

Yesterday, Coca-Cola announced that as part of its commitment “to evolving our beverages and portfolio options through ongoing innovation,” it is “transitioning from the use of brominated vegetable oil (BVO) to sucrose acetate isobutyrate (SAIB) and/or glycerol ester of rosin (singly or in-combination).”

Coca-Cola’s decision “is just the latest evidence that food makers are coming under pressure for the ingredients they use,” writes the AP’s Candice Choi in a story that apparently got the extensive coverage of the issue rolling yesterday. “While companies stand by the safety of their products, some are making changes in response to the movement toward foods that people believe are natural.”

BVO has been getting bad press for some time, and is banned in more than 100 countries. Indeed, the ingredient was dubbed “Dr. Oz’s ‘number one shocking health threat in your food,’” reports WTVR.com out of Richmond, Va. It is a synthetic chemical formed by bonding vegetable oil to bromine, which is the only liquid nonmetallic element and “is a heavy, volatile, mobile, dangerous reddish-brown liquid,” according to webelements.com.

Its name is derived from the Greek word bromos, which means “stench” — which should tell us something right there — not to mention that its primary commercial use nowadays seems to be as an ingredient in flame-retardants. Let’s just say that Leo Burnett himself would have a hard time making it seem to be an inviting ingestible.

A January 2013 post on Dr. Oz’s site that points out that the ingredient is primarily used in drinks that contain citrus flavor oil and “helps prevent the drinks’ ingredients from separating on the shelf.” On the down side, “researchers link BVO to organ damage, neurological issues and even birth defects.” 

“The FDA approved the general use of brominated vegetable oil in 1958, but restricted use of the chemical to limited amounts in the 1970s,” reports Christopher Freeburn on InvestorPlace. “Under current regulations, brominated vegetable oil is not supposed to exceed 15 parts per million.”

Under the headline “Victory,” Kavanagh writes: “Thanks to the people who signed my petition on Change.org, I’m glad to know the Powerade sold at my school and consumed by people around the world will be a little bit healthier without BVO in it. I knew that if Gatorade could do the right thing, so could Powerade.”

“Neither company has said that it made the changes because of Kavanagh or the petitions against each of their products, but the moves certainly came amid substantial negative customer feedback,” writes Upstart Business Journal’s Teresa Novellino. “The Powerade petition had more than 59,000 online supporters while the Gatorade one had 200,000-plus,” as the AP’s Choi reported.

“We removed BVO from Gatorade in 2013 in response to our consumers and since that time we have been actively working to remove it from the rest of our product portfolio,” PepsiCo spokesman Jeff Dahncke said in a statement quoted by Bloomberg’s Duane D. Stanford.

“Coke, which has said its use of BVO was safe for consumers, will use as a replacement sucrose acetate isobutyrate, which it has used for over a decade in some drinks, or glycerol ester of rosin, a ingredient commonly found in chewing gums and drinks,” Reuters’ Curtis Skinner reports.

The Washington Post’s Marissa Payne, who writes that “brominated vegetable oil sounds like an ingredient made for frat brothers,” surveys the twitterverse and finds the usual range of reactions “from disgust to relief to, of course, hilarity.” An illustration of the latter?

“You asked for this, so, don’t come running to us when your Sour Melon Powerade bursts into flames,” tweeted @waitwait, proving once again that humor is in the taste buds of the beholder.

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