The FDA Wants To Ban a Popular Soda Ingredient That’s Already Outlawed on 3 Other Continents

Updated: Nov. 07, 2023

Research has suggested this additive may cause "thyroid toxicity" and other health problems—now national standards may catch up with other countries.

When you crack open a can of cola, you’re after that flavorful fizz. What you might not pay much attention to is brominated vegetable oil (BVO), an ingredient in some sodas that you may have consumed frequently over the years—especially if you enjoy orange soda or sports drinks.

BVO is an additive that helps maintain the citrus flavor in these drinks while maintaining liquid clarity, instead of a cloudy appearance. BVO has been permitted in regulated amounts…but it’s been a questionable ingredient for a long time, thanks to concerns from some companies, several studies that have shown its negative health effects, and bans on BVO in other countries.

Now, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is proposing to ban the use of this additive due to recent studies that show its potential to harm humans. These studies revealed that when ingested, bromine—a component of BVO—can accumulate in the body and cause issues with the thyroid gland.

Notably, BVO is already banned in Australia, Europe, Japan, and New Zealand. In response to concerns and consumer protests, major companies like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola have voluntarily removed it from their beverages. A California law passed this year will also ban BVO, along with other additives, by the start of 2027.

The effort to remove BVO from the U.S. food supply has been a long and complex journey. BVO has been used in products since the 1920s and was initially considered Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS), a designation that allows additives to bypass FDA regulations for certain uses. However, the FDA revoked that designation in 1970 and has been researching the effects of the additive since then. It wasn’t until the most recent studies in 2022, which showed thyroid toxicity in rats, that the proposed ban was issued in 2023.

What New York and California’s Imminent Food Bans Mean for Some Popular Brands

Nevertheless, it seems most manufacturers have already taken action, and only a few products still contain BVO. It has quietly been removed from most products, with the exception of Keurig Dr Pepper’s Sun Drop soda and certain store brands. Scott Faber, senior vice president of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), expressed his satisfaction with the news, stating on November 3, 2023: “The FDA has known for decades that brominated vegetable oil is harmful to human health. Today’s announcement will ensure everyone has access to products that don’t contain BVO.”