The Strange Case of Vegetable Oil Ingredients (BVO) in Soft Drinks

Author: Mohammad Rubaiyat Rahman


Photo Source: The New York Times (James Edward Bates)

Suggested Citation:

Mohammad Rubaiyat Rahman, ‘The Strange Case of Vegetable Oil ingredients (BVO) in Soft Drinks’ (South Asia Canteen 2014) <; accessed

Beverage panjandrum Coca-Cola and PepsiCo announced on May 4, 2014 that they’re working to decommission a controversial ingredient ‘Brominated Vegetable Oil’ (BVO) from all their brand drinks, including Mountain Dew, Fanta and Powerade.[1] The decision has been spearheaded by a petition of Mississippi teenager, Sarah Kavanagh[2], who wanted it out of PepsiCo’s brand drink  ‘Gatorade’ and Coca-Cola’s brand drink ‘Powerade’.[3] She inquired why beverage brand like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola were using the chemical BVO inside beverages which were marketed as being safe and healthy options to maximize the performance of elite athletes.[4]  The petition, forwarded by[5], questioned why it was being used in a drink marketed toward health-conscious athletes. The petition on noted that the ingredient is linked to a flame retardant and is not approved for use in Asia (Japan) and the European Union.[6]

Earlier the beverage giants contended that BVO meets regulatory requirements to make the product more natural.[7] The situation has veered to a new way point, when more than 200,000 signed in the petition. Although Pepsico used BVO in preceding years in ‘Mountain Dew’ energy drinks; the beverage giant removed the ingredient from Gatorade[8] last year and has been taking measures to remove it from its other popular brands of beverages. Coca-Cola, an Atlanta based popular beverage brand, is also conforming the same steps.[9] It expects BVO to be out of all drinks by the end of 2014.[10]

Brominated vegetable oil (BVO) is patented as a flame retardant and has been banned in Europe and Japan.[11] It is also a kind of vegetable oil, derived from corn or soy, bonded with the element bromine.[12] BVO is an emulsifier, used to keep oily components of citrus-flavored beverages from separating. The Food and Drug Administration earlier put BVO under its “generally recognized as safe” classification.[13] A decade later (1970), BVO had been removed from ‘safe’ category.[14] Despite, The FDA limits the amount of BVO permitting in fruit-flavored beverages to 15 parts per million (ppm).[15] In South Asia (e.g. India[16]), the ingredient had been banned to use in soft drinks since 1990.[17]

BVO contains bromine which is also used in brominated flame retardants. Though it is safe when consumed at low levels, but studies suggest that the element can build up in the body over time. Consuming a large amount of beverages that contain the BVO (e.g. 2 to 4 liters per day) has been linked to a case of someone suffering from memory and motor loss and another case of a person developing a rare skin condition known as ‘bromoderma’.[18] BVO can apparently cause some uncomfortable health problems when consumed in vast quantities. Back in 1997, doctors in California treated a person who admitted to emergency room with headaches and fatigue that progressed to the point where he lost the ability to walk. Medical tests showed he had huge amounts of the element ‘bromine’ in his health system. It had been found that the patient used to drink two to four liters of ‘orange soda’, containing BVO, every day.[19]


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