The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is looking to finally stamp out the use of brominated vegetable oil, a controversial food additive once widely used in certain sodas that has been linked to an array of health risks. Many states and countries have already banned the ingredient, but this move could be the final nail in the coffin (at least in the US).
The FDA announced last week that it's proposing a ban on brominated vegetable oil in food after numerous studies have led it to the conclusion that the additive is “no longer considered safe.”
“Recent toxicology studies conducted in collaboration with the NIH have now given us conclusive scientific evidence to support our proposal to remove the FDA’s food additive authorization for BVO [brominated vegetable oil],” the FDA said in a statement on November 2, 2023.
The ingredient is essentially vegetable oil that's been modified with bromine, a corrosive chemical that can irritate the skin and other tissues. In years gone by, it was widely used in small amounts to keep the citrus flavoring from separating and floating to the top of some beverages.
Many big soda manufacturers, such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, ditched the additive in the past decade. However, a handful of sugary fruit beverages still contain brominated vegetable oil. According to the Environmental Working Group, this includes Sun Drop, made by Keurig Dr Pepper, as well as Orangette and Great Value Fruit Punch, made by Walmart.
Some of the evidence cited by the FDA showed that rodents exposed to brominated vegetable oil can suffer from problems with their thyroid, the vital gland that produces hormones to help regulate the body's metabolism.
There is also some evidence that excessive consumption of brominated vegetable oil can cause bromism, a condition with a constellation of neurological and psychiatric symptoms like irritability, confusion, hallucinations, and psychosis.
Brominated vegetable oil is banned as a food additive in the European Union, likewise in certain states, such as California. Just last month, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill that banned four food additives, including brominated vegetable oil.
The FDA added they are also looking into another one of the ingredients recently banned by California: FD&C Red No. 3. Also known as erythrosine, this additive is a red dye used in foods, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals. Just like brominated vegetable oil, mounting evidence is suggesting that FD&C Red No. 3 may be harmful to human health and it’s already banned in other parts of the world.
"A decision from the FDA is forthcoming,” the health authority noted.