Analysis: Why the FDA Banned Brominated Vegetable Oil in Beverages

Food and beverage manufacturers have been using brominated vegetable oil since the 1920s, but the Food and Drug Administration has revoked the safety certification of the emulsifier that keeps citrus flavors from separating in some of our favorite sports drinks and sodas.

The FDA issued a regulation effective August 2 to eliminate BVO, saying it no longer considers the additive safe, based on animal studies by the National Institutes of Health. California banned BVO last October and the substance was rejected earlier in Europe and Japan.

“In the late 1960s, the FDA became aware of questions about the safe use of BVO and removed it from the ‘GRAS [generally recognized as safe] list.’ However, there was not enough data to restrict its use overall. Instead, the agency limited the use of BVO as a flavoring oil stabilizer in fruit-flavored beverages at a reduced use level and began regulating it as a food additive,” the FDA said in announcing its action, noting safer alternatives exist and that manufacturers already are using them.

Bromine exposure has been linked to thyroid dysfunction, memory loss and skin problems in animal studies. Though no human health effects at current levels of exposure have been identified, the FDA said there was enough uncertainty to warrant action. The bromines are stored in heart, liver and fat tissue.

“This decision by the FDA reflects a concern for public health and sound food production, and though the effect in the short term might be small for the food industry, it sets a precedent,” said osteopath Kevin Huffman.

It sets a precedent “that encourages innovation and exploration of alternative, safer methods,” he added.

The Department of Agriculture lists more than 600 branded products containing BVO. The drinks look cloudy, and their labels either list brominated vegetable oil as an ingredient or say brominated and list an oil such as soybean oil, Thomas Galligan, principal scientist for food additives and supplements at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told USA Today.

PepsiCo and Coca-Cola began removing the additive in 2013.

“This [FDA] action suggests that where safety data provide evidence of human health risk, the FDA is ready and willing to take action,” Kelly Magurany, senior manager for toxicology at the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), told The Food Institute.

“This should provide comfort and confidence to consumers in the oversight the FDA has for our food supply.”

Biostrips CEO and founder Joanna Bacchus, a certified nutritional adviser and dietary supplement specialist, called the FDA action “positive.”

“It’s a significant win for ensuring we all attain a better standard of products available on our supermarket shelves,” Bacchus said. “Although it will lead to increased costs and modifications in production processes, ultimately it prioritizes consumer safety, which I would consider as necessary.”

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