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For Immediate
January 24, 1996

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Statement on FDA Approval of Olestra

The Center for Science in the Public Interest issued the following statement today in response to approval of the artificial fat substitute olestra by the Food and Drug Administration. CSPI, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization specializing in food and nutrition issues, has been a leader in the campaign against olestra. The statement is by CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson, Ph.D.

"We are bitterly disappointed that Commissioner Kessler has approved olestra over the objection of dozens of leading scientists.

"Olestra may be fat-free but it has a fatal side-effect: It attaches to valuable nutrients and flushes them out of the body. Some of these nutrients — called carotenoids — appear to protect us from such diseases as lung cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, and macular degeneration.

"According to Dr. Meir Stampfer of the Harvard School of Public Health, the long-term consumption of olestra snack foods might therefore result in several thousand unnecessary deaths each year from lung and prostate cancers and heart disease, and hundreds of additional cases of blindness in the elderly due to macular degeneration.

"Besides contributing to disease, olestra causes diarrhea and other serious gastrointestinal problems, even at low doses. I find it incredible that Dr. Kessler would certify this food additive as safe, especially when there are truly safe low-fat snacks already on the market. What's more, there is no evidence to show that olestra will have any significant effect on reducing obesity in America.

"Because it robs the body of disease-fighting nutrients, olestra has been called a public-health time bomb. Today Commissioner Kessler has lit the fuse. Although Dr. Kessler has done a great deal for consumers during his tenure, this action is a serious blow to his and the FDA's credibility as advocates for the public's health.

"CSPI advises consumers to avoid all olestra foods. We urge major food manufacturers not to make olestra-containing products. And finally, we intend to appeal Dr. Kessler's decision through an administrative appeal and, if necessary, the courts.

"As for Procter & Gamble, we believe that olestra will someday be regarded as a black mark on the company's record similar to its Rely tampons, which caused deaths from toxic shock syndrome."

CSPI is a nonprofit consumer organization based in Washington, D.C., that focuses on foodsafety and nutrition. It led efforts to get the "Nutrition Facts" labels on all foods; to restrict theuse of sodium nitrite, sulfites, and other dangerous additives; and to halt many deceptive foodads. CSPI is funded largely by the one million subscribers to its Nutrition Action Healthletter.