Soft-Drink Makers to Remove Soybean-Oil-Based Ingredient

MS Soybean Plant at Sunset

Global beverage producers, including Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, have announced the removal of brominated vegetable oil (BVO) in many popular soft drinks, which could put a significant dent in the food industry’s demand for soybean oil.

BVO is especially popular to help citrus-flavored soft drinks stay mixed and eliminate the need to shake up a product before consuming it. But it recently came under scrutiny when some consumers complained that the ingredient was also used in flame-retardant products. After increasing complaints and an online petition that gathered over 200,000 signatures demanding the ingredient be removed, beverage manufacturers began looking for replacements.

The European Union and Japan have already banned the use of BVO in beverages and food products, and Coca-Cola recently indicated that BVO will also be removed from its products in Canada and Central America.

Still, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains BVO’s safe rating and says that the continued use of the substance will not harm public health. There is no conclusive scientific research that suggests BVO is the cause of any health risks.

Using soy oil to produce BVO helps maintain soybean oil demand. Because of the recent anti-BVO activism, however, the food industry’s demand for soybean oil is at risk of decline.

“Industry sources estimate that some 800 million pounds of BVO is produced from soybean oil, but that represents all uses,” said Richard Galloway, an expert on the oil industry who consults with USB farmer-leaders.

Despite moving away from the unpopular ingredient, soft drink companies also stand by the safety of BVO consumption in their products.

“Activists claim that other ingredients can easily replace BVO, but beverage manufacturers take issue with that statement,” says Galloway. “There are other chemical products that are adequately functional, such as sucrose acetate isobutyrate and glycerol ester of wood rosin, but these certainly sound scary on ingredient labels.”