The Long Goodbye to Brominated Vegetable Oil

Sun-Drop ColaIt only took half a century. Back in 1970, the FDA decided that brominated vegetable oil could no longer have GRAS – generally recognized as safe – status. This week the agency announced it plans to ban this additive to many citrus flavored drinks. The long goodbye to brominated vegetable oil  (BVO) will not be over until 2025 – a year after FDA’s proposal takes effect next year.

Sun-Drop and other sodas will have to find some other chemical to stabilize the citrus flavor in their products.

No Big Surprise

There should be no surprise that FDA is finally getting around to banning this neurotoxic substance. The agency knew there were problems when it took BVO off the GRAS list more than 50 years ago. Since then, the need for this food additive to go has only gotten more obvious.

Coke and Pepsi decided to get rid of it more than a decade ago. By 2020, it was gone from most types of Mountain Dew. The “Throwback” version of Mountain Dew was a notable exception.

The UK banned it in the 1970s, while the European Union got rid of it in 2008.

A Long History of Problems

The fundamental problem with BVO is the bromine in it, because it winds up accumulating in a person’s body. As such, it causes neurological problems and damage to the thyroid gland and other organs of the body. In one case study, a man lost memory, muscle coordination, and eventually even the ability to walk before doctors diagnosed bromine toxicity from drinking soda with BVO in it.

Good Riddance

In announcing its decision, FDA is making a rather lame attempt to position this as evidence of its vigilance – “an example of how the agency monitors emerging evidence.” But even FDA is not fooled. Some awareness it’s been too slow is evident in the agency’s announcement of the long goodbye for brominated vegetable oil, which it closes by saying:

“We intend to develop a faster and more nimble process for evaluating chemicals in the food supply.”

Yes, nimbleness is a good idea when our health is at stake.

Click here, here, and here for more on this decision. For the full documentation of why FDA finally took this decision, click here.

Sun-Drop Cola, photograph by Amy Meredith, licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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November 4, 2023