Gatorade removes controversial ingredient after girl’s online petition

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(CNN) — A Mississippi teenager is taking a victory lap after Gatorade announced it will change a minor ingredient in some of its popular sports drinks.

Sarah Kavanagh, a fifteen-year-old volleyball player and Gatorade lover, was drinking an orange Gatorade at home when she read about one of the ingredients in it. She dumped out the rest of the bottle right then and there, and began an online campaign to lobby the company to change formulas. The petition eventually drew over 200,000 signatures.

Brominated vegetable oil, or BVO, is used in a number of drinks to prevent the colors and flavors from separating. The article that Kavanagh read in Scientific American said that the ingredient has been banned in Japan and Europe, and that bromine is cited in chemical company patents as a flame retardant.

“I don’t want to use a product that has [BVO] in it,” she told CNN affiliate WDAM. “The Gatorade company in the U.K. doesn’t use it; they don’t think it’s necessary. So obviously we can make the same product without this ingredient.”

PepsiCo Inc, which makes Gatorade, says for the past year – before the petition began – it has been studying that very question, and performed “extensive sensory testing.” Over the next few months, bottles with the new recipe will be phased in on store shelves, to replace the flavors like orange and citrus-cooler that used BVO. (Many flavors, like grape and fruit punch, never used it in the first place.)

Gatorade said in a statement, “While our products are safe, we are making this change because we know that some consumers have a negative perception of BVO in Gatorade, despite being permitted for use in North American and Latin American countries.”

Michael Jacobson at the Center for Science in the Public Interest said he thinks the substance shouldn’t be used in food. He said in one test on animals, BVO caused a behavior change – although the test was done at much higher doses. “This substance has not been demonstrated to be safe,” he said. “Unfortunately it’s been very poorly tested.”

The Food and Drug Administration reiterated that it considers BVO safe, at the low levels used in drinks. “Based on several long-term animal studies,” said FDA spokeswoman Shelly Burgess, “the FDA has determined that BVO is safe and presents no health risks.”

The substance is used in plenty of other drink brands. A quick trip to the supermarket showed it listed on the labels of Fresca, Fanta, Mountain Dew, Sun Drop, and some flavors of Powerade.

The makers of those drinks – PepsiCo, CocaCola, and Dr. Pepper/Snapple – assured CNN that the drinks are safe, and they each emphasized that they are in compliance with the FDA, and the ingredients are clearly marked on the labels. All three also said they are always open to reformulating their recipes.

Kavanagh is eager to enjoy her favorite sports drink again.

“I didn’t expect all the attention to be brought to it,” she said, “but I’m definitely grateful for it.”

This article was written by CNN’s Dugald McConnell. CNN’s Saundra Young contributed to this story.   TM & © 2012 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

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