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Teen wins battle against Gatorade 'BVO' ingredient

Sarah Kavanagh is feeling victorious.

The 16-year-old high school student from Hattiesburg, Miss., didn’t like what she read on the nutrition label on a bottle of orange Gatorade. She launched a Change.org petition calling on its maker to remove a controversial ingredient, brominated vegetable oil.

Sarah’s petition, which noted that brominated vegetable oil, or BVO, is banned in Japan and the European Union, drew more than 200,000 supporters.

Her big news came on Friday, when PepsiCo Inc. said it will use an alternative ingredient in its Gatorade drinks, in response to customer concerns. The newly formulated drink will be on shelves in a few months, according to the company.

“It’s been very empowering to know that somebody as young as I am and, you know, just one person but backed up by 200,000 people, we can take down a company like this,” Sarah told Matt Lauer on TODAY Wednesday.

PepsiCo told TODAY the company has been working on a substitute ingredient for BVO for more than a year, starting well before Kavanagh launched her petition. The company issued a statement saying, "While our products are safe, we are making a change because we know that some consumers have a negative perception of BVO in Gatorade." 

Sarah began her campaign last year at age 15, after reaching for a cold Gatorade after playing outside with her younger brother. A vegan, she wanted to make sure the sports drink was OK for her to drink. She didn’t recognize BVO and began researching the food additive.

“I saw the side effects,” she told Lauer. “It wouldn’t be something that I would want to drink. I wouldn’t want my family to drink it and I want people to know about it."

Sarah was happily surprised at how much support she gained online.

“I didn’t think it would get as much response as it did,” she said. “But it’s really, really great to know that all those people are backing me up and that they care about the ingredients in what they’re eating and drinking.”

The Food and Drug Administration says that BVO is safe and poses no health risks at the permitted levels. Coca-Cola, Dr Pepper and Pepsi, who all use BVO in some of their drinks, say it’s safe and they’ll continue evaluating it.

Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told TODAY that more study of BVO is needed.

“In animal studies, high doses of BVO clearly are harmful,” he told TODAY. “Whether the low doses in human foods are also harmful, we simply don’t know. This chemical needs more research.”

Dr. Mehmet Oz told Lauer that Pepsi’s decision a big step forward. 

“What’s really rewarding to me to hear Sarah’s story ... is because Sarah made a change,” he said.

Sarah, whose described herself in her petition as a “naturally a curious and argumentative person,” told Lauer she may have another crusade in her.

“I know that a lot of other beverage companies use this product,” she said, adding that people are asking her what she is going to take on next. “I have some things in mind. I’m not really sure yet but I’m definitely ready to take this to the next level.”

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