Brominated vegetable oil is a highly controversial ingredient that’s banned in many different countries worldwide, but is still, for some reason allowed for human consumption here in the U.S. You can find it in some citrus-flavored soft drinks. The Coca-Cola company has announced that they will be removing brominated vegetable oil from soft drinks sold in the U.S.
FoodFacts.com is obviously very happy with this news. But we still certainly wonder why it remains true that there are several ingredients other countries have seen fit to ban that still degrade our food supply here in America.
Though there are exceptions running both ways, it’s generally accurate to say, “Food regulations in the European Union are much stricter than in the United States.”
This especially holds true for chemical preservatives; there are many for which you can say, “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows this substance in food and drink, but it is banned in the EU, and possibly elsewhere too.”
For example, the chemical azodicarbonamide is, according to FDA regulations, “Generally Recognized As Safe” in food — in densities no greater than 45 parts per million. But in most of the world, azodicarbonamide is used primarily in the manufacture of rubber and plastics. Various governments in Europe and Australia consider azodicarbonamide a “respiratory sensitizer” that can trigger asthmatic reactions, and in Singapore, using azodicarbonamide in food warrantshigh fines and lengthy prison sentences.
Azodicarbonamide made American headlines last February when the Subway sandwich chain, presumably responding to a petition started by a health-food blogger, announced that it would henceforth stop using the chemical in its bread.
And this week another company, presumably in response to a petition, announced plans to alter its recipes so that the products it sells in America are more in line with its offerings elsewhere in the world: the Coca-Cola company will stop adding bromiated vegetable oil to its American drink products. Brominated vegetable oil contains bromide, which has proven useful as a flame retardant, though Japan and the European Union ban it for human consumption.
Why the wide discrepancy between the U.S. and worldwide views of such chemical additives? Is the United States too lax about food safety where chemicals are concerned — or is the European Union too strict?
Charles Vorhees is a Cincinnati toxicologist who studied the neurological effects of BVOs in the early 1980s. In 2011 Vorhees said, “Compounds like these that are in widespread use probably should be reexamined periodically with newer technologies to ensure that there aren’t effects that would have been missed by prior methods … I think BVO is the kind of compound that probably warrants some reexamination.”
There are definitely cases of people who developed massive health problems after excessive consumption of bromide. Consider this example from the 2011 SciAm article:
In 1997, emergency room doctors at University of California, Davis reported a patient with severe bromine intoxication from drinking two to four liters of orange soda every day. He developed headaches, fatigue, ataxia (loss of muscle coordination) and memory loss.
In a 2003 case reported in Ohio, a 63-year-old man developed ulcers on his swollen hands after drinking eight liters of Red Rudy Squirt every day for several months. The man was diagnosed with bromoderma, a rare skin hypersensitivity to bromine exposure. The patient quit drinking the brominated soft drink and months later recovered.
While you’ll read a lot of news that speaks pointedly about the amounts allowed in food products being far too small to cause harm, you may want to consider some other ideas as well:
Brominated vegetable oil has been shown to bioaccumulate in human tissue and breast milk, and animal studies have found it causes reproductive and behavioral problems in large doses.
Bromines are common endocrine disruptors, and are part of the halide family, a group of elements that includes fluorine, chlorine and iodine. When ingested, bromine competes for the same receptors that are used to capture iodine. This can lead to iodine deficiency, which can have a very detrimental impact on your health.
Bromine is a central nervous system depressant, and can trigger a number of psychological symptoms such as acute paranoia and other psychotic symptoms. Bromine toxicity can also manifest as skin rashes, acne, loss of appetite, fatigue, and cardiac arrhythmias.
The Coca-Cola Company is taking a big step and we’re happy to know that soon Fanta and Fresca will be sold without the brominated vegetable oil. And for all the claims of “a little won’t hurt anyone,” we’d like to emphasize the bioaccumulation of the ingredient. To us, that basically means that there’s really no such thing as just a little brominated vegetable oil. The U.S. needs to catch up with other countries and begin banning chemical additives that citizens abroad don’t need to worry about in their food supply.