Coca-Cola and PepsiCo will both remove from all of their beverages a controversial ingredient that includes an element also found in flame retardants. Coca-Cola intends to have the ingredient, brominated vegetable oil (BVO), removed from its drinks by the end of the year; PepsiCo removed BVO from Gatorade last year and said yesterday— apparently following Coca-Cola's announcement — that the rest of its products would also be dropping it, though no timeframe was given.
"All of our beverages, including those with BVO, are safe and always have been."Coca-Cola says that BVO is used to improve the stability of certain drinks by preventing other ingredients from separating. Though it isn't used in all sodas and sports drinks, it's reportedly been used in quite a few big ones, particularly those with citrus flavoring, including Mountain Dew, Fanta, and Powerade. BVO is apparently far from a necessity though: it reportedly isn't approved for use in the European Union or Japan, and Coca-Cola has says that it'll be able to replace it with sucrose acetate isobutyrate and glycerol ester of rosin — ingredients that are no more kindly named, but already being used in drinks and chewing gum.
The Associated Press traces the reason for BVO's removal back to a 2012 Change.org petition from a then-15-year-old girl who wanted it and other "flame retardant" chemicals removed from sports drinks like Gatorade. BVO's use has been contested long before then (humorously enough, The New York Times called the teenager's quest for BVO's removal "most likely … quixotic"), but it appears her petition nonetheless generate considerable attention to the chemical that narrowly predated the change to Gatorade, which appears to have been the tipping point for Coca-Cola's and PepsiCo's drinks at large.
As for exactly what impact BVO has on the human body, that's still open to debate — and likely why it's taken so long for anything to happen. The Mayo Clinic reports that there have been few studies on BVO, but some have found that bromine — the element it shares with flame retardants — can build up in the body. There have apparently also been some reports of memory loss as well as skin and nerve issues after drinking more than two liters of soda containing BVO in a single day. The chemical does, however, remain approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for use in extremely small amounts pending further study. It's been pending study now for decades.
Naturally, the beverage makers aren't framing BVO's removal as relating to a health concern. "All of our beverages, including those with BVO, are safe and always have been — and comply with all regulations in the countries where they are sold," a Coca-Cola spokesperson says in a statement. Coca-Cola did not state why it's now choosing to make the change, noting only that it will allow the company to be "consistent with the ingredients we use throughout the world." Pepsi also denied that the change related to health issues when originally announcing that BVO would be phased out of Gatorade, telling the AP that it had simply been "hearing rumblings" from customers that they wanted the chemical out of their drinks.