Athletes everywhere may have a Mississippi teenager to thank for the decision by the makers of Gatorade to remove a controversial ingredient from its iconic sports drinks.
Sarah Kavanagh, a 15-year-old volleyball player from Hattiesburg, spearheaded an online campaign that drew in more than 200,000 backers to petition Gatorade to remove brominated vegetable oil (BVO) — an emulsifying agent that has been patented as a flame retardant — from its beverages.
Kavanagh, a Gatorade lover, said she was moved to launch the Change.org petition after reading an article in Scientific American that said BVO is banned in Japan and Europe. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers BVO safe at the low levels used in drinks. But some studies of animals have reportedly linked BVO to potential neurological problems, reduced fertility, and other health conditions.
PepsiCo Inc. — Gatorade’s maker — announced plans this week to remove BVO from its products. In press statements, company officials said they started looking at the issue a year ago, before the petition began, and were not prodded by the campaign. But they acknowledged the action was driven by “consumer feedback.”
Kavanagh said she was gratified by the beverage maker’s decision.
"When I went to Change.org to start my petition, I thought it might get a lot of support because no one wants to gulp down flame retardant, especially from a drink they associate with being healthy,” said Kavanagh, in a press release. “But with Gatorade being as big as they are, sometimes it was hard to know if we’d ever win. This is so, so awesome.
"Companies like Gatorade put so much thought into marketing. As someone who loves to drink their products, I'm so glad they’re making strides to put as much consideration into their customers' health."
Pulin Modi, an organizer with Change.org, called the campaign “a great example of the shift in power we’re seeing between businesses and their customers.”
Modi added that companies “can no longer sit back as thousands of consumers are asking for a change — they’re compelled to do something about it.”
Gatorade is not the only product containing BVO, Modi noted, saying the organization is also pushing other companies to remove the ingredient from their drinks.
BVO is used as a flavor emulsifier, helping to distribute a drink’s coloring throughout a bottle. PepsiCo said the company is rolling out Gatorade containing another emulsifier in coming months.
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