Of all the food additives out there, BVO, or brominated vegetable oil, might be one of the most bizarre.
You probably first heard about it in headlines last year saying “Flame retardant used in drinks and sodas.” But it’s been around for a long time.
And before I tell you more about BVO, first, here’s what it’s used for. And it’s very, very important, so listen carefully.
BVO is added to beverages so…
You don’t have to shake them. Everything stays all mixed together and things won’t look “cloudy.”
Yes, that’s it! And food companies seem to think that’s a perfectly good tradeoff for a chemical that has been found to damage your heart. One that’s been banned in numerous other countries.
And it’s been in regulatory limbo since 1977, when it was relegated to an “interim” list – that is, a special category of “food additives permitted in food or in contact with food on an interim basis pending additional study. “ (In fact, the category was created specifically to accommodate BVO by the judge in a case brought against the FDA asking that the chemical be suspended until its safety could be established – something that was supposed to have been done within two years.)
Well, nearly four decades should be ample time to study the effects of an ingredient, wouldn’t you think? And, in fact, we have learned some things about BVO that should have made it pretty obvious that this is not a particularly desirable substance to be ingesting from a health standpoint – like the fact that it can accumulate in fatty tissue and was found to cause heart damage in animals during laboratory testing.
And while we’ve been waiting for the FDA to quit dawdling, Japan, India and Europe all decided BVO should be banned to protect their consumers. And several cases of bromine poisoning came to light that were suffered by individuals who binged on soda containing BVO, including one reported in 1997 involving “severe bromine intoxication” in a patient who drank two or more liters of orange sodas every day. (So much for the FDA’s “safe limit” of 15 parts per million.)
Those instances were cited in an article in Environmental Health News, which also pointed out the resemblance between BVO and toxic brominated flame retardants. One such compound,PBDE has been found in dozens of species of freshwater and marine fish, birds, reindeer, bird eggs and even whales throughout the world.
That and other media attention to this similarity has resulted in BVO being taken out of some products – but it’s still present in others. That’s yet another reason why you need to look at the ingredients listed on product labels before you buy them.
BVO is on the Wild Oats “NO NO” list of 125 unwanted ingredients.