Apparently motivated in part by an online petition started by a 15-year-old from Mississippi, PepsiCo has reportedly decided to remove brominated vegetable oil (BVO), a flame retardant, from Gatorade®. Sarah Kavanagh posted the petition on after she read about studies linking BVO to possible health effects, and it was signed by more than 200,000 who agreed with her call for its removal. Additional information about the petition appears in Issue 463 of this Update. The company will not remove BVO from Mountain Dew® products.

A company spokesperson reportedly said that PepsiCo has been testing alternatives for about a year, but because it continues to believe that the ingredient is safe, was not going to change the formulation until the petition met with such a response. Kavanagh taped a segment for “The Dr. Oz Show” and visited The New York Times while she was in New York. When she learned about PepsiCo’s announcement a few days later, she excused herself from algebra class to call her mother, saying “Mom, we won.”

New York University Nutrition Professor Marion Nestle observed on her blog, “A teenager with social media skills accomplished what CSPI [the Center for Science in the Public Interest] has been trying to do for decades.” CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson applauded PepsiCo’s decision, but also noted, “Gatorade without BVO is nutritionally no better than with it. A typical 20-ounce bottle has 130 calories, all from its 34 grams of refined sugars, which promote obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.” Nestle also reported that the Food and Drug Administration “removed BVO from its list of ingredients Generally Recognized As Safe in 1970, but in 1977 allowed companies to use it on an ‘interim’ basis. It says getting rid of it is ‘not a priority.’” See CSPI News Release and The New York Times Diner’s Journal, January 25, 2013; Food Politics, January 29, 2013.