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PepsiCo replacing Gatorade ingredient after online petition

(Reuters) - PepsiCo Inc is removing a controversial chemical from its Gatorade drinks following concerns from consumers and an online petition by a Mississippi teenager.

Gatorade said the change was not a response to the petition, although the 15-year-old girl claimed victory.

The ingredient, brominated vegetable oil (BVO), is a chemical containing bromine, which is found in fire retardants. Small quantities of BVO are used legally in some citrus-flavored drinks in the United States to keep the flavor evenly distributed.

It was present in Gatorade Orange and Lemonade and other smaller flavors.

Molly Carter, a spokeswoman for Gatorade, said BVO-free versions of those drinks will roll out across the United States in the next couple of months. She said the move to replace BVO has been in the works for some time, and was not a response to the petition by Sarah Kavanagh, the 15-year-old girl from Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Kavanagh started a petition on Change.org, an online petition platform, to ask PepsiCo to remove BVO from Gatorade. It received more than 200,000 signatures, and on Friday, the teenager declared victory.

"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," the girl said via a statement on Change.org. "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," she said.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a food safety watchdog group, BVO is a "poorly tested and possibly dangerous food additive and there's no reason to use it in Gatorade or other drinks."

"I applaud PepsiCo for doing the responsible thing and voluntarily getting it out of Gatorade without waiting for government officials to require it to do so," said Michael Jacobson, the group's executive director, in a statement.

(Reporting by Martinne Geller in New York; editing by Matthew Lewis)

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