The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken a significant step in addressing public health concerns by proposing the revocation of its regulation authorizing the nationwide use of brominated vegetable oil, or BVO, as an additive in food. This decision follows California’s groundbreaking move to ban the ingredient in October, marking it as the first state in the United States to do so. It’s important to note that BVO has already been banned in Europe and Japan, reflecting global concerns about its safety.
James Jones, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for human foods, stated, “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 … found the potential for adverse health effects in humans.”
What Is Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO)?
Brominated vegetable oil is a food additive created by modifying vegetable oil with bromine, a pungent, deep red oily chemical. It is primarily used as an emulsifier in citrus-flavored beverages to prevent the flavoring from separating and floating to the top. Bromine is also commonly used in flame retardants, which adds to the concerns surrounding its use in food products.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit research and advocacy organization focusing on consumer health and safety, toxic chemicals, and pollutants, has identified dozens of products, primarily sodas, that contain brominated vegetable oil.
The History of BVO Regulation
The limited number of products containing BVO today can be attributed to past restrictions imposed by the FDA. In 1970, the FDA determined that BVO was no longer “Generally Recognized as Safe” and began regulating its use under food additive regulations. Over the years, many beverage manufacturers reformulated their products to replace BVO with safer alternatives, resulting in fewer beverages in the U.S. containing this potentially harmful ingredient. Additionally, in 2012, a petition with over 200,000 signatures drew attention to health concerns, prompting many companies to eliminate BVO from their consumer products due to market pressure.
Potential Health Hazards Associated with BVO
Brominated vegetable oil has been linked to various health hazards, including:
- Nervous system damage
- Skin and mucous membrane irritation
- Loss of muscle coordination and memory
Furthermore, BVO can accumulate in the body over time, raising concerns about long-term health effects. While the studies motivating the FDA’s decision were conducted in animals, they found negative health effects at levels closely approximating real-world human exposure. One significant concern is the toxic effects on the thyroid gland, which plays a crucial role in regulating blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature, and metabolism.
Scott Faber, the EWG’s senior vice president for government affairs, expressed support for the proposed ban, stating, “Today’s announcement will ensure everyone has access to products that don’t contain BVO.”
The Road Ahead
While the FDA has proposed banning BVO, a final decision is yet to come. The agency will be accepting comments from the public through January 17, 2024, and will undergo a review process before making a definitive ruling. In the meantime, if you want to avoid consuming brominated vegetable oil, it’s essential to check the ingredients lists of products before purchasing them.
This move by the FDA highlights the importance of monitoring emerging evidence and conducting scientific research to address safety-related questions. When the science does not support the continued safe use of additives in foods, regulatory action becomes imperative to protect public health.
The FDA’s proposal to ban brominated vegetable oil as a food additive represents a significant step towards ensuring the safety of our food supply. It reflects the agency’s commitment to addressing emerging health concerns and taking action when necessary to protect consumers. The final decision, following the review process, will be eagerly anticipated by health-conscious individuals and advocates for safe food additives.