After years of delay, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed banning the use of Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO) in soda. For decades, BVO, a modified vegetable oil, has been widely used as an emulsifier in citrus-flavored sodas to mix the drink’s tangy taste evenly throughout the beverage and prevent citric flavoring agents from floating to the top. However, multiple studies have shown potential health risks from consuming BVO, and many countries around the world have already banned the substance.
FDA Proposes A Ban on BVO in Soda
BVO is currently approved for use in soda in the United States. The FDA has reportedly proposed revoking BVO’s registration. The decision comes after recent toxicology studies have made it “difficult to support its ongoing use” in food and beverages.
“The proposed action is an example of how the agency monitors emerging evidence and, as needed, conducts scientific research to investigate safety-related questions and takes regulatory action when the science does not support the continued safe use of additives in foods,” says James Jones, FDA deputy commissioner for human foods. (1)
What Is BVO?
BVO is made by attaching a dozen bromine atoms to a triglyceride, making it a dense oil that can float evenly throughout water when mixed with less dense fats. However, studies have shown that its bromine content may potentially interfere with iodine’s function in the thyroid gland and that it can accumulate in fat tissues in animals and humans. This can lead to possible long-term health issues. (2)
In fact, BVO has already been banned in many countries, including India, Japan, and nations of the European Union. Last October, California outlawed BVO, with legislation due to take effect in 2027. However, the FDA has been slow to ban the substance in the U.S. In the 1950s, the agency regarded BVO as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS), an official classification given to items that have either been appropriately tested or, for ingredients in common use before 1958, do not appear to be harmful. However, over time, concerns over BVO’s toxicity have led the agency to overturn its GRAS classification for the substance and temporarily limit its use to relatively small concentrations. This means concentrations of no more than 15 parts per million, exclusively in citric-flavored drinks.
Read 9 Foods Containing Additives to Look Out For
A Slow Process
Data on the risks posed by even these small amounts of BVO over time hasn’t been easy to collect since it relies heavily on long-term studies that re-evaluate health effects in a sufficiently-sized sample of people. Yet, evidence has been slowly mounting over time. A UK study in the 1970s found that bromine was building up in human tissues, and animal studies have been linking high concentrations of BVO with heart and behavioral problems. The FDA’s proposal to ban BVO reflects a continuing push to ensure our food and drink supply is safe. The FDA’s swift decision to take action against BVO shows FDA’s commitment to the health and safety of Americans and to protecting the food supply chain.
“Most major soda drink companies are fortunately ahead of the game. PepsiCo and Coca-Cola Co have been phasing the ingredient out of their products over the past decade… and today few beverages in the US contain BVO,” says Jones.
The proposal to ban BVO could be a sign of more things to come. Jones has already announced that the agency is reviewing regulations that authorize the use of certain food additives with a view to automatically prohibit the approval of any food coloring agents found to cause cancer in humans or animals. Jones’ statement suggests the agency’s commitment to a more nimble bureaucratic process that prioritizes public health and safety.
Where Are We Right Now?
As of now, a final decision on the FDA’s reclassification of BVO still needs to go through a lengthy review process that is unlikely to be completed before early 2024. However, with alternative ingredients already being used in citrus-flavored sodas worldwide, consumers should rest assured that they can still enjoy their favorite beverages without the potential risk of consuming a controversial substance.
Keep Reading: 10 Popular Foods Americans Love That Are Banned In Other Countries
- “FDA to Finally Outlaw Soda Ingredient Banned Around The World.” Science Alert. Mike McRae. November 6, 2023.
- “Toxicological evaluation of brominated vegetable oil in Sprague Dawley rats.” Science Direct. K.A. Woodling, et al. July 2022.