PepsiCo Inc. (NYSE:PEP) announced on Friday that it would pull the controversial synthetic chemical known as brominated vegetable oil from its all of its Gatorade brand sports drinks.
A recent Change.org petition asked PepsiCo to stop including brominated vegetable oil, or BVO, as an ingredient in Gatorade. BVO is a chemical used as a flame retardant.
On Friday, PepsiCo representative Molly Carter told the Los Angeles Times that the company would soon cease using BVO as an ingredient in the sports drinks.
Carter said the reconstituted Gatorade flavors “will start rolling out in the next few months,” but that “we’re not recalling Gatorade. We don’t think our products are unsafe. We don’t think there are health or safety risks.”
That’s all well and good, but what exactly is brominated vegetable oil?
BVO is a mixture of more or less standard vegetable oil and the element bromine. The addition of bromine increases the density of the vegetable oil, keeping it from rising to the top of a drink.
All right, so does that mean that bromine is safe? Some sources say it is not.
“Bromine is a halogen and displaces iodine, which may depress thyroid function,” according to a website called What is That Ingredient? “Evidence for this has been extrapolated from pre-1975 cases where bromine-containing sedatives resulted in emergency room visits and incorrect diagnoses of psychosis and brain damage due to side effects such as depression, memory loss, hallucinations, violent tendencies, seizures, cerebral atrophy, acute irritability, tremors, ataxia, confusion, loss of peripheral vision, slurred speech, stupor, tendon reflex changes, photophobia due to enlarged pupils, and extensor plantar responses.”
OK. Based on this litany of possible side effects, it appears clear that BVO might not be something you want to put inside your body. So why has it been an ingredient in Gatorade for years?
One thing BVO is good at doing is keeping ingredients from separating, so many drink manufacturers use the flame-retardant chemical to keep a drink in a stable, perfectly mixed condition, as opposed to a concoction with several discrete layers of ingredients.
But BVO is far from the only chemical capable of holding other ingredients together. Moreover, its use as a food additive is currently banned in both the European Union and Japan.
In any case, PepsiCo is capable of making the change to a non-BVO Gatorade without too much hassle, and it seems to be an idea whose time has come -- a good long while ago.