Gatorade is facing consumer questions about its use of a little-known ingredient: brominated vegetable oil. A petition at Change.org is asking Gatorade to reformulate its products to remove the emulsifier, also called BVO, which is used to suspend citric oils in prepared beverages. The petition, which charges that the ingredient was developed as a flame retardant and poses health risks like reduced fertility and early-onset puberty, had 183,809 signatures by Friday morning.
"We take consumer safety and product integrity seriously, and we can assure you that Gatorade is safe," Gatorade, owned by PepsiCo, said in a statement. "As standard practice we constantly evaluate our formulas and ingredients to ensure they comply with federal regulations and meet the high quality standards our consumers and athletes expect."
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website, brominated vegetable oil may be used safely in fruit-flavored beverages but in "amounts not to exceed five parts per million."
The additive's use is described as being "on an interim basis," as of February 2012, "pending the outcome of additional toxicological studies."
"I do believe that BVO should be examined more closely by the FDA," Geeta Maker-Clark, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Chicago's Pritzker School of Medicine, wrote in an email, adding that there was a time when the additive was not on the administration's "safe" list.
"Bromine does bind to fat in the body and stay there, it is an endocrine disruptor, and the fact is many people drink excessive amounts of soda," Maker-Clark said. "So the bromine ingestion is far higher than the 'safe' dose contained in one drink."
As consumers have become increasingly aware of the ingredients in foods and preparation methods, including the treatment of animals for slaughter, a number of companies have reformulated products or revised the manufacturing process in the past year.
McDonald's and other companies, for example, stopped using ammonium hydroxide, sometimes called "pink slime," in burger patties in February. Starbucks agreed to stop using cochineal extract as a pink food coloring in April as the result of anotherChange.org petition.
Pulin Modi, a senior campaigner with Change.org said the Starbucks petition garnered about 8,000 signatures.
The Gatorade petition began as idle curiosity by Sarah Kavanaugh, a 15-year-old high school student in Hattiesburg, Miss. A vegan, Kavanaugh researched the ingredients in Gatorade and stumbled onto articles charging that the ingredient was unhealthy.
Bob Boutin, president of Skokie-based Knechtel Labs, a leading confectionary and food consultant, cautioned that brominated vegetable oil is an umbrella term that can be applied to different oils that may have been treated in a variety of ways, creating a wide variety of compounds used for different purposes.
Therefore, he said, one brominated vegetable oil used as a flame retardant may not be the same brominated vegetable oil used in a bottled beverage like Gatorade.
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