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Powerade follows Gatorade, removes controversial ingredient from some of its sports drinks

NEW YORK - A controversial ingredient is being removed from some Powerade sports drinks, after the chemical was also taken out of rival Gatorade last year.

The ingredient, brominated vegetable oil, had been the target of a petition by a Mississippi teenager, who questioned why it was being used in a drink marketed toward health-conscious athletes. The petition on Change.org noted that the ingredient is linked to a flame retardant and is not approved for use in Japan or the European Union.

In response to customer feedback, PepsiCo said last year it would drop the ingredient from Gatorade. At the time, Coca-Cola declined to say whether it would remove the ingredient from the two flavors of Powerade that contain it as well.

But this week, bottles of Powerade in fruit punch and strawberry lemonade flavors being sold in the Detroit, Michigan; Omaha, Nebraska, New York and Washington, D.C. areas no longer list the ingredient. Other bottles still list it, however, suggesting Coca-Cola may have started phasing it out recently.

Representatives for the Atlanta-based company weren't immediately available to provide details on the change.

The Food and Drug Administration says brominated vegetable oil is used as a stabilizer for flavoring oils in fruit-flavored drinks. Coca-Cola has said in the past that it uses the ingredient to "improve stability and prevent certain ingredients from separating."

The decision by Coca-Cola to remove brominated vegetable oil from Powerade is just the latest evidence that food makers are coming under pressure for the ingredients they use. While companies stand by the safety of their products, some are making changes in response to the movement toward foods that people believe are natural.

Earlier this year, for instance, Subway said it would remove an ingredient dubbed the "yoga mat chemical" from its breads. The ingredient, azodicarbonamide, is approved for use by the FDA and can be found in a wide variety of breads. The petitioner, Vani Hari of FoodBabe.com, said she targeted Subway because of its image for serving healthy food.

Likewise, brominated vegetable oil can also be found in several other drinks.

But the Mississippi teenager, Sarah Kavanagh, said she targeted Gatorade and Powerade in petitions because they're designed for athletes, who are likely more concerned about what they're putting into their bodies.

As Americans cut back on soda, sports drinks have become more important for Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, which is based in Purchase, New York.

Although Coca-Cola has long dominated rival PepsiCo on the soda front, it lags the company in the growing sports drink category. According to the industry tracker Beverage Digest, Gatorade has 64 percent of the sports drink market.

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