PepsiCo to take controversial ingredient out of Gatorade
Sarah Kavanagh, 15, of Hattiesburg, Miss., started an online petition requesting that the ingredient brominated vegetable oil be removed from Gatorade products. The ingredient is not in all Gatorade products. (James Edward Bates, Photo for The New York Times)
Mississippi teenager Sarah Kavanagh had launched an online petition in November that drew recent media attention, including a story in the Chicago Tribune on Monday, but the company said the reformulation project was sparked by earlier customer complaints.
“While our products are safe, we are making this change because we know that some consumers have a negative perception of BVO in Gatorade, despite being permitted for use in North American and Latin American countries,” Gatorade spokeswoman Molly Carter said in a statement. “As part of this process, we began working on an alternative ingredient to BVO for the few Gatorade flavors that contain BVO more than a year ago.”
Some countries, including those in the European Union and Japan, do not allow the use of brominated vegetable oil in food. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s last review of the chemical, conducted in the 1970s, called for more toxicological testing that was never performed.
Kavanagh, whose petition noted that the chemical shares an ingredient, bromine, with some flame retardants, was ecstatic when she heard the news.
“When I went to Change.org to start my petition, I thought it might get a lot of support because no one wants to gulp down flame retardant, especially from a drink they associate with being healthy,” she said. “But with Gatorade being as big as they are, sometimes it was hard to know if we’d ever win. This is so, so awesome.”
In an interview, Carter said the company needed a year to make sure the new formulation “would not affect taste or functionality. So we did a lot of sensory testing to make sure we had the right batch and we feel strongly we do.”
Carter said BVO will be replaced with sucrose acetate isobutyrate, “one of the flavor emulsifiers we use internationally.”
She said she expects the newly formulated drinks to be on shelves over the next few months. Consumers can check for brominated vegetable oil in the list of ingredients and “until then they can drink other (non citrus) flavors that do not contain it.”
Carter said there is no current plan to remove BVO from PepsiCo’s Mountain Dew but the company is always evaluating “formulas to ensure they meet the high standards our consumers expect.”
Coca-Cola, which uses the chemical in Orange Fanta and Powerade, said in a statement that the ingredient improves the stability of some products by preventing ingredients from separating.
“While we are confident in the safety of our beverages, we continuously look for ways to improve our products and take consumers’ concerns into account,” the statement said.
Change.org said Kavanagh’s petition attracted more than 200,000 supporters and was one of its most popular.
“Her campaign is a great example of the shift in power we’re seeing between businesses and their customers,” said Pulin Modi, senior campaigner at Change.org. “Companies like Gatorade can no longer sit back as thousands of consumers are asking for a change -- they’re compelled to do something about it.”