UPDATED - Coca-Cola is removing BVO (brominated vegetable oil) from Powerade and other products by the end of this year.
A stabilizer/emulsifier that keeps fat-soluble citrus flavors suspended in soft drinks - and can also be used as a flame retardant in plastics - BVO is approved for use in foods/beverages in North America and Latin America, but not in Europe, Japan or India.
The Atlanta-based firm told FoodNavigator-USA: "In the coming months, The Coca-Cola Company will be transitioning from the use of BVO to sucrose acetate isobutyrate (SAIB) and/or glycerol ester of rosin (singly or in-combination). Glycerol ester of rosin is commonly found in chewing gum and beverages, and SAIB has been used in beverages for over 14 years."
All of our beverages, including those with BVO, are safe
It added: "The transition will be made across a variety of formulas from ready-to-drink to fountain machines and allows us to become consistent with the ingredients we use throughout the world.
"In the US, POWERADE Fruit Punch and POWERADE Strawberry Lemonade bottle varieties have already transitioned to the use of glycerol ester of rosin. We anticipate the transition will be complete for all of our beverages in the United States by the end of the year."
It would not say why the change had been made but added: "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."
Coca-Cola’s move follow’s PepsiCo’s decision to remove BVO from Gatorade and replace it with sucrose acetate isobutyrate, owing to some consumers’ “negative perceptions”.
(PepsiCo denied the reformulation was prompted by a Change.org petition filed by student Sarah Kavanagh - who noted that BVO also serves as a flame retardant - and said it had been exploring alternatives for some time.)
BVO's regulatory status
While BVO has been sitting on a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) list of food additives “permitted on an interim basis pending further study” for several decades, it is not in ‘regulatory limbo’, and is safe at levels of 15ppm in fruit-flavored beverages, the agency told us last year .
The reason the agency has not embarked on rulemaking to remove BVO’s ‘interim’ status is because it believes it is safe and has other more immediate priorities, said a spokeswoman.
“BVO is considered safe by FDA for use as a flavoring adjuvant in fruit-flavored beverages based on several long-term animal studies that were conducted on this substance, and as such commencing rule-making to remove the interim status is not a priority for the agency at this time.”
CSPI: You'd think the FDA would have looked at this by now
However, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) said that, "After 42 years, you'd think the FDA might have found time to seriously reevaluate this ingredient and finalize its regulatory status."
Executive director Michael Jacobson added: "FDA is not charged with conducting studies, but it could require manufacturers to conduct studies...and, depending on the results, either affirm the substances safety at the levels used, reduce the levels used, or ban the substances."