Sarah Kavanagh and her little brother were looking forward to the bottles of Gatorade they had put in the refrigerator after playing outdoors one hot, humid afternoon last month in Hattiesburg, Miss.
But before she took a sip, Sarah, a dedicated vegetarian, did what she often does and checked the label to make sure no animal products were in the drink. One ingredient, brominated vegetable oil, caught her eye.
“I knew it probably wasn’t from an animal because it had vegetable in the name, but I still wanted to know what it was, so I Googled it,” Ms. Kavanagh said. “A page popped up with a long list of possible side effects, including neurological disorders and altered thyroid hormones. I didn’t expect that.”
She threw the product away and started a petition on change.org, an online petition platform, that has almost 200,000 signatures. Ms. Kavanagh, 15, hopes her campaign will persuade PepsiCo, Gatorade’s maker, to consider changing the drink’s formulation.
Jeff Dahncke, a spokesman for PepsiCo, noted that brominated vegetable oil had been deemed safe for consumption by federal regulators. “As standard practice, we constantly evaluate our formulas and ingredients to ensure they comply with federal regulations and meet the high quality standards our consumers and athletes expect — from functionality to great taste,” he said in an e-mail.
In fact, about 10 percent of drinks sold in the United States contain brominated vegetable oil, including Mountain Dew, also made by PepsiCo; Powerade, Fanta Orange and Fresca from Coca-Cola; and Squirt and Sunkist Peach Soda, made by the Dr Pepper Snapple Group.
The ingredient is added often to citrus drinks to help keep the fruit flavoring evenly distributed; without it, the flavoring would separate.