The FDA proposed to ban brominated vegetable oil. Here's how to tell if it's in your food, and why the FDA thinks it's unsafe to drink.

  • The US Food and Drug Administration announced it wants to ban the additive brominated vegetable oil.

  • The product helps stabilize citrus flavor in some sodas and juices, but can build up in the body.

  • A final decision will be made in the coming year, but other countries have long since banned it.

This week, the US Food and Drug Administration proposed revoking a regulation that authorizes the use of brominated vegetable oil in food.

Food companies have used the additive BVO since the 1920s. For decades, manufacturers used it to keep fruit flavoring in a stable form that doesn't separate and rise to the top. It was used in some sodas, fruit juices, and other drinks with citrus oil.

"The agency concluded that the intended use of BVO in food is no longer considered safe after the results of studies conducted in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found the potential for adverse health effects in humans," James Jones, the FDA's deputy commissioner for human foods, said in a statement released Thursday.

He noted that the move follows a recent ban on the ingredient in California. In October, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law prohibiting the sale of food or drink items with BVO and other ingredients like red dye 3 and potassium bromate.

The FDA is accepting comments on its proposal through January 17, 2024.

How can you tell what drinks contain BVO?

In 1958, the FDA gained the authority to determine the safety of food ingredients. In the years following, it listed BVO as generally recognized as safe.

Over the years, new data showed potential health effects, and the FDA removed it from the GRAS list in the '60s. The agency limited its use to a stabilizer that couldn't exceed the level of 15 parts per million in the drinks.

The FDA notes that many beverage companies have since found alternative stabilizers. For example, in 2014, Coca-Cola announced it was removing BVO from Powerade drinks.

But you may still find BVO in some soft drinks or other fruit-flavored drinks.

If you want to avoid BVO, you should check the ingredients in sodas, fruit drinks, lemonade, and juices.

When used, BVO is required to be listed as an ingredient on the label as "brominated vegetable oil" or as the specific oil that has been brominated, such as "brominated soybean oil".

BVO side effects

The FDA has been monitoring the effects of BVO since the 1970s, after a report showed that it could cause heart problems when taken in large doses, according to the agency's press release. In the decades since, sparse reports have emerged about its potential harms.

There are anecdotal reports of people visiting the hospital with telltale signs of bromine poisoning — headache, fatigue, memory loss, and problems walking. In one 1997 case, doctors determined that a patient had gotten the condition from drinking 2-4 liters of soda with BVO in it a day.

BVO can also hurt the parts of your body used in eating and drinking, Katherine Zeratsky, a registered dietitian at the Mayo Clinic, told Food Network. "Health concerns about BVO stem from one of its ingredients, bromine. Bromine can irritate the skin, nose, mouth" she said.

In a 2022 report published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, the FDA found that BVO may build up in mice thyroids over time, becoming toxic. Though they conducted these tests in mice, not humans, the agency deemed its results were significant enough to recommend against the use of BVO in food.

In humans, thyroids help control blood pressure, temperature, heart rate, and metabolism. Thyroid damage can cause weight fluctuations, heart rate irregularity, decreased energy, poor bone health, and more.

The final results of the proposal won't be fully processed until 2024, CNN reported.

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