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FDA bans BVO, an additive found in some sodas and sports drinks

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Wednesday that it is lifting the regulation allowing brominated vegetable oils in foods, effective August 2.

The agency had previously approved use of the ingredient in small amounts to “prevent the citrus flavor from settling and rising to the surface of some beverages,” according to the agency. However, in 1970, the FDA decided that the ingredient was no longer “generally recognized as safe” — an official FDA designation — and began monitoring its use under its food additive regulations.

In Wednesday's recommendation, the FDA said it had concluded that “the intended use of BVO in food is no longer considered safe” after results of studies conducted in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health demonstrated the potential for “adverse effects in humans.”

“The removal of the only approved use of BVO from the food supply followed a thorough review of current scientific evidence and research that raised safety concerns,” Jim Jones, deputy commissioner for food for human consumption, said in the press release.

“We will continue to monitor new evidence on the chemicals we have re-evaluated and, in cases like this one, where the science no longer justifies continued approved use, we will take action to protect public health,” Jones added.

California banned the ingredient last October with the passage of the California Food Safety Act, while BVO is already banned in Europe and Japan.

Which soft drinks contain BVO and which are BVO-free? This is what you need to know.

Which sodas contain BVO?

Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that more than 600 branded products may still contain BVO. But the agency's Global Branded Food Products Database relies on companies to voluntarily submit their own nutrition information, raising doubts about the accuracy of the information, notes the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a food and health watchdog.

The USDA database shows many brands of soda and regional beverages from the supermarket that may also contain BVO.

“Sun Drop, made by Keurig Dr Pepper, still uses BVO … This is probably the largest national brand that still uses it,” Arun Sundaram of CFRA Research told Reuters on Tuesday.

“We are actively working to reformulate Sun Drop to no longer include this ingredient and will continue to comply with all state and federal regulations,” a KDP spokesperson told USA TODAY in an emailed statement Wednesday.

To determine if a product contains BVO, you can check the ingredients list.

The ingredient list of drinks containing BVO will include “brominated vegetable oil” or “brominated” and a specific type of oil, such as soybean oil, Dr. Thomas Galligan, senior scientist for food additives and dietary supplements at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told Today.

As Today reported, Galligan offered a few more tips for identifying BVO:

  • It is most commonly found in citrus-flavored beverages.
  • If the drink appears cloudy overall in the bottle, it may contain BVO.
  • Generic lemonades from no-name manufacturers are more likely to contain BVO than well-known brand products.
  • If you drink soda from a vending machine at a restaurant, they usually offer branded products, so the risk of BVO infection is lower, but if you are concerned, ask a restaurant employee about the brand and ingredients.

Which sodas do not contain BVO?

According to the FDA, many beverage manufacturers have changed the recipes of their products and replaced BVO with an alternative ingredient.

PepsiCo agreed to remove BVO from Gatorade in 2013, and in 2014 both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo announced they would remove the ingredient from all of their beverages.

While the ingredient remained in Mountain Dew for several years after 2014, USA TODAY confirmed in a 2020 fact check that PepsiCo no longer uses the ingredient in the drink.

What is BVO?

According to the FDA, BVO is a vegetable oil modified with bromine. It has been used in small amounts (no more than 15 ppm) as a “fruit flavor stabilizer in beverages” to prevent citrus flavors from rising to the top.

In May 2022, the FDA released a study examining potential health effects of BVO consumption in rodents. In the study, the agency measured the amounts of BVO present in animal feed and in brominated fats in tissues of test animals. The agency stated that it fed the test animals amounts of BVO that “simulate real-world exposure.”

Data from the study suggest that oral ingestion of BVO is associated with increases in tissue bromine levels and that at high exposure levels, the thyroid is a target organ of “potential adverse health effects in rodents.”

Gabe Hauari is a national trending news reporter for USA TODAY. You can follow him on X. @GabeHauari or email him at [email protected].