If Powerade is your go-to post-workout beverage of choice, you can rejoice at the fact the Coca-Cola Company has decided to drop a flame retardant-linked chemical from its sports drinks for good. Brominated vegetable oil (BVO) — a chemical that binds to fat in the body and stays there — was present in Powerade fruit punch and strawberry lemonade flavors. Coca-Cola confirmed Sunday the chemical has been officially removed from the ingredient list, the Associated Press reported.
The removal came after Mississippi teenager Sarah Kavanagh targeted Gatorade and Powerade in petitions on Change.org for selling drinks that could harm the bodies of their primary consumers: athletes. “Thanks to the people who signed my petition on Change.org, I’m glad to know the Powerade sold at my school and consumed by people around the world will be a little bit healthier without BVO in it. I knew that if Gatorade could do the right thing, so could Powerade,” said Kavanagh on the petition’s Change.org page.
Last year, PepsiCo removed BVO from its Gatorade ingredient list in response to customer feedback. Kavanagh, who spearheaded the Gatorade campaign, had mentioned: “The other day, I Googled 'brominated vegetable oil.' It was the last time I drank Orange Gatorade. I found out that this 'BVO' is a controversial flame retardant chemical that is in some Gatorade drinks! Who wants to drink that? Not me!”
The teen’s response provided ammunition for the consumers to fight back and demand the company get rid of the chemical for good. She mentioned the controversial chemical was banned in Japan and the European Union, suggesting BVO is not necessary to make Gatorade. The fact other countries have banned the chemical demonstrates it's unsafe for public consumption, she argued. Kavanagh’s Powerade petition had more than 59,000 online supporters, while the Gatorade one had more than 200,000.
Fears over drink products containing BVO stem from the data that shows the chemical is used in some flame retardants, and when it’s ingested in high doses, says the Mayo Clinic, it can cause memory issues and skin and nerve problems. The chemical has the ability to buildup in human tissue, and, in animal studies, was found to cause reproductive and behavioral problems when consumed in large doses.
A 1971 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found bromine was building up in humans, as researchers saw UK citizens had higher bromine serum levels compared to their counterparts in the Netherlands and Germany, where BVO was not used. The largest amounts of BVO were found in children's tissue in the UK, suggesting the intake of BVO is the cause of bromine residue in the population. The chemical, now banned in the EU, is raising questions as to why North America is still using it when other countries are using natural alternatives.
In the U.S., BVO is used to help stabilize citrus flavors in sugary drinks, and although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers it safe for use, consumers still face the danger of bromine building up in tissue. Bromine ingestion is much higher than the FDA-approved safe dose a drink can have. Moreover, since the FDA’s approval of a safe limit for BVO in sodas in 1977, there has been far more extensive research done on the chemical that suggests the agency should take a closer look.
Coca-Cola’s decision to remove BVO from its Powerade drinks is evidence that food makers are coming under pressure for the ingredients they use in their products. People like Kavanagh are taking charge and advocating for healthier foods, despite companies who claim their products are already safe and nutritious. Coca-Cola’s removal of BVO may also be a business strategy, as more Americans are cutting back on soda and have become bigger sports drinks consumers.
The power is indeed shifting from companies to the hands of its consumers toward a healthier future. Fast food chain Subway has also responded to the public and removed its FDA-approved “yoga mat chemical” — azodicarbonamide — from its breads.