The US FDA just proposed a ban of BVO – brominated vegetable oil – a potentially toxic stabiliser used in soft drinks!
FDA To Ban BVO – A Stabiliser Used In Soft Drinks!
On Thursday, 2 November 2023, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally moved to revoke its authorisation for BVO – brominated vegetable oil – a stabiliser mostly used in soft drinks.
BVO is a vegetable oil that has been modified by bromine, a pungent and oily chemical, to create an emulsifier that keeps the citrus flavouring in fruit beverages from separating and floating to the top.
BVO has long been banned in Europe and Japan over health safety concerns, but was permitted to be used in the United States, at up to 15 parts per million.
While many beverage makers have already reformulated their drinks to replace BVO with other stabilisers, about 90 food products in the United States – mostly sodas, still use brominated vegetable oil. This was partly due to FDA’s past restrictions, and the ban on BVO in Europe and Japan:
In 1970, the FDA determined BVO was no longer ‘Generally Recognized as Safe’ … and began overseeing its use under our food additive regulations.
Over the years many beverage makers reformulated their products to replace BVO with an alternative ingredient, and today, few beverages in the U.S. contain BVO.
– James Jones, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Human Foods
The proposed ban is not yet a certainty. The FDA is opening up the proposed ban for public comments until January 17, 2024. That will be followed by a review process, before a final decision is made.
However, the publicity of this potential ban by the FDA will steer consumers away from soft drinks still containing BVO, and encourage brands to reformulate their products to replace brominated vegetable oil with an alternative stabiliser.
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Why The FDA Is Finally Planning To Ban BVO
The FDA decision came after California banned the BVO in October, with the passing of the California Food Safety Act. But officially – the FDA came to its conclusion based on studies that showed bioaccumulation of bromine, and its toxic effects on the thyroid:
The FDA conducted studies that clearly show adverse health effects in animals in levels more closely approximating real-world exposure. Therefore, the FDA can no longer conclude that this use of BVO in food is safe.
The studies were conducted in collaboration with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ (NIEHS) Division of Translational Toxicology (formerly the Division of the National Toxicology Program), to assess unresolved toxicological questions. Results from these studies demonstrate bioaccumulation of bromine and toxic effects on the thyroid – a gland that produces hormones that play a key role in regulating blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate, metabolism and the reaction of the body to other hormones.
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Those studies were conducted between 2016 and 2022. Initially, they started to more accurately measure the amount of BVO in commercial soft drinks. Then they studied the health effects of BVO in test rats, and the study results showed toxic effects on the thyroid:
Between 2016 and 2020, the FDA published improved methods to more accurately measure the amount of BVO in commercial soft drinks on the market and to measure small amounts of fats in vegetable oil. These research efforts enabled the development and validation of the method used in our later animal studies to detect the level of brominated fats in tissues of animals fed BVO.
On May 16, 2022, the FDA published a study in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology that evaluated potential health effects related to BVO consumption in rodents. The FDA measured the amounts of BVO present in the animal food and brominated fats in tissues from test animals. We also fed test animals amounts of BVO that simulate real-life exposure.
The data from the study suggest that oral exposure to BVO is associated with increased tissue levels of bromine and that at high levels of exposure the thyroid is a target organ of potential negative health effects in rodents. The agency also conducted a study to identify the level of BVO in the body after consumption of BVO.
The FDA concluded that after assessing existing animal and human data, together with the more recent FDA studies, it can no longer conclude that BVO is safe to use in food.
Needless to say – even if the FDA has not yet finalised the ban, we should all avoid any food products that contain BVO, even if they meet current regulations.
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Dr. Adrian Wong has been writing about tech and science since 1997, even publishing a book with Prentice Hall called Breaking Through The BIOS Barrier (ISBN 978-0131455368) while in medical school.
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