More than 50 years after determining that brominated vegetable oil (BVO) is no longer generally recognized as safe (GRAS), the US Food and Drug Administration is proposing to ban the food ingredient. BVO is not safe in food in any amount, the agency announced Nov. 2.
BVO was once widely used in sodas and sports drinks as a stabilizer to keep citrus flavoring from floating to the top. Many beverage manufacturers stopped using the ingredient about 10 years ago because of health concerns. Studies in laboratory animals show increased levels of bromine in some tissues and adverse effects on the thyroid following oral exposure to the chemical.
The FDA declared in 1970 that BVO is no longer GRAS, though it still allows use of small amounts as a food additive. Since then, “we have continued to study it to understand any potential health impacts,” James Jones, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for human foods, says in a statement. Recent toxicology studies conducted by the FDA in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health provide “conclusive scientific evidence to support our proposal to remove the FDA’s food additive authorization for BVO,” Jones says.
Consumer advocacy groups, which have long pressured the FDA to ban harmful ingredients in food, applaud the proposal. “BVO can still be found on the market, especially in so-called off-brand products, including store-brand products and lesser-known, smaller brands that are sometimes sold regionally,” Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, says in a statement. “Today’s announcement will ensure everyone has access to products that don’t contain BVO.”
The FDA’s proposed action comes just weeks after California enacted a law banning BVO and three other chemicals —potassium bromate, propylparaben, and Red No. 3 dye—in food sold in the state, beginning Jan. 1, 2027.
The FDA is evaluating the safety of Red No. 3 dye for its potential to cause cancer in response to a petition from advocacy groups filed in October 2022. The dye is widely used in candy, cake frosting, and other food products. A decision on Red No. 3 dye in food is forthcoming, Jones says.
The FDA is accepting public comments on the BVO proposal until Jan. 17.
This story was updated on Nov. 16, 2023, to correct an error regarding the role of brominated vegetable oil (BVO) in beverages. BVO is a weighting agent that stabilizes emulsions. It is not an emulsifier.