FDA proposes banning the use of certain vegetable oils in drinks and processed food

Most advanced countries, and California, banned the additive long ago

In a significant shift for the food industry, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently proposed repealing the regulation that allows the use of brominated vegetable oil (BVO) in food, soft drinks, cookies and fruit juice, among others. California has already outlawed the substance.

The decision is based on studies that have revealed that this additive is no longer safe for human consumption.

BVO is a vegetable oil that is modified with bromine. It's used to keep citrus flavoring from separating and floating to the top of some beverages, even though in the 1970s, the FDA changed its classification, stripping its "Generally Recognized as Safe" status but not outright banning its use.

Most manufacturers changed their procedures to substitute alternative ingredients and today, few beverages in the U.S. contain BVO. 

Troubling data found

But since the 1970s action, new studies have revealed troubling data on brominated plant oil, causing the FDA to review its position.

"Recent toxicology studiesExternal Link Disclaimer conducted in collaboration with the NIH have now given us conclusive scientific evidence to support our proposal to remove the FDA’s food additive authorization for BVO," the agency said in a statement. "The proposed action is an example of how the agency monitors emerging evidence and, as needed, conducts scientific research to investigate safety related questions, and takes regulatory action when the science does not support the continued safe use of additives in foods." 

The recent studies have shown that BVO can cause bromine to build up in the body, with toxic effects on the thyroid.

The thyroid, a vital organ in our body, produces hormones that regulate fundamental functions such as blood pressure, body temperature and heart metabolism. The accumulation of bromine in this organ can have serious consequences for human health, the studies have found.

Banned in Europe, Japan and California

As is often the case, other nations are ahead of the U.S. Europe and Japan have pioneered the ban on brominated plant oil on food products. This global trend reflects an international consensus on the need to remove potentially harmful ingredients from our daily diet.

California recently took steps to ban the use of four food ingredients, including BVO in processed foods and beverages.

Other additives targeted by California

The recently-passed California Food Safety Act prohibits the manufacturing, distribution and sale of food and beverages that contain not only brominated vegetable oil but also potassium bromate, propylparaben and red dye 3.

Backers of the law say it doesn't mean popular products will suddenly disappear from store shelves, but rather that companies will have to tweak their recipes to be able to offer the same food and drink items with healthier ingredients, NPR recently reported.

"Californians will still be able to access and enjoy their favorite food products, with greater confidence in the safety of such products," said Gov. Gavin Newsom, who signed the bill into law on Saturday.

Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, a Democrat who sponsored the bill, denied that the ban would cause production problems, noting that many advanced nations already outlaw the four chemicals.

"This bill will not ban any foods or products — it simply will require food companies to make minor modifications to their recipes and switch to the safer alternative ingredients that they already use in Europe and so many other places around the globe," he said, according to NPR.