For Immediate Release: May 15, 1996
Contact: Richard Hébert, 202-332-9110, ext. 370, or
Michael Jacobson, ext. 328
Dueling Internet sites pit olestra's producer, food goliath Procter & Gamble, which markets olestra under the brand name Olean, against the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the "David" that is leading the fight against the controversial additive.
In one corner is CSPI's Internet site, http://www.cspinet.org/olestra, which offers a history of olestra; responses to Procter & Gamble's claims; and information about the likely effects of eating it -- cramps, diarrhea, nausea, and other intestinal distress, and the loss of important nutrients. It includes the results of testing done to date and statements by public health experts about the potential health risks of the product.
It even offers up David Letterman's Top Ten Slogans For The New Fat Substitute (e.g., "We can't tell you exactly how we make it, but we can say this: ten monkeys go into a room, and only nine come out."). In deference to good taste, however, CSPI excluded the infamous photographs of stained underwear -- caused by "anal leakage" -- that Procter & Gamble included in its petition to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In the other corner, Procter & Gamble's Internet site (www.olestra.com) is essentially an advertisement for the product, which the producer is expected to market soon in its Pringleschips. Slicker than CSPI's site, Procter & Gamble's includes endorsements by several professors. That triggered a CSPI deceptive-advertising complaint to the Federal Trade Commission charging that most or all of the experts are paid consultants to Procter & Gamble, a fact not disclosed in the ad. CSPI also urged the FTC to require the producer's Internet site to include the warning notice that the FDA requires on olestra labels.
The media war over olestra's safety started with Frito-Lay's advertising blitz when in late April it introduced its "Max" line of olestra chips in three test cities -- Eau Claire, Wisconsin; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and Grand Junction, Colorado. Frito-Lay is showering those communities with dollar-off coupons to promote sales of the high-priced chips.
Next, print and broadcast media in the three test-market cities, as well as the Denver Post, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Des Moines Register, and New York Times, began reporting on the adverse effects of eating the olestra chips -- from gastrointestinal problems to loss of important nutrients.
On yet another front, both CSPI and Frito-Lay maintain toll-free hotlines. CSPI is urging people who suffer adverse effects from eating Frito-Lay's "Max" potato chips to call 1-888-OLESTRA. The line began receiving complaints almost immediately. For instance, a woman in Grand Junction reported that she and her three-year-old son both suffered loose stools and other gastrointestinal symptoms after their family ate about four ounces of Max Ruffles chips.
"It is important that someone other than the company collect and compile information about olestra's adverse effects," says Michael Jacobson, executive director of CSPI. "CSPI will convey this information to the FDA and the public."
"We hope that when people get information from sources more objective than advertising they will leave Frito-Lay's Max chips on the shelf," he added. "It's really too bad for Frito-Lay stockholders that the company is getting a black eye for being the first to market chips that make people sick -- especially when it has been reaping great publicity for its hot-selling baked chips, which are not only tasty and low-fat, but safe."
CSPI is a nonprofit consumer-advocacy organization that focuses on nutrition and food safety. It is well-known for its studies on the fat and calorie content of theater popcorn, Chinese-restaurant meals, and other foods. It is funded largely by the 750,000 subscribers to its Nutrition Action Healthletter, and does not accept funding from industry or government. CSPI was founded in 1971 and is based in Washington, D.C.
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