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For Immediate
April 16, 2002

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Letter to FDA

  New Olestra Complaints Bring Total Close To 20,000—More Than All Other Food Additive Complaints In History Combined
Gastrointestinal Misery Continues Even With Fake Fat In Free-fall

WASHINGTON— The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) today forwarded to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) more than 200 new complaints of adverse reactions from consumers who had eaten snack foods containing the indigestible fat substitute olestra. With close to 20,000 reports forwarded to the agency from both CSPI and olestra developer Procter & Gamble, the FDA has logged more complaints about olestra than it has about all other food additives in history combined.

     The new batch of complaints comes on the heels of Procter & Gamble’s sale of the Cincinnati, Ohio, factory that manufactures olestra and reports that Frito-Lay is pulling its Wow!-brand chips from some grocers’ shelves in an unusual “reverse market test.” Frito-Lay’s Wow! Chips reportedly have eaten into sales of low-fat Baked Lay’s chips, which are olestra-free. (Frito-Lay pays P&G a licensing fee to use the synthetic fat in Wow! chips.)

     The FDA greenlighted olestra for use in snack foods in 1996, but sales of first-place Wow! Chips and P&G’s Fat Free Pringles, the second-place olestra-containing snack line, have dropped steeply since their late-‘90s peaks.

     “Olestra may be circling the drain, but even with its dwindling market share, olestra is causing far too much pain, embarrassment, and inconvenience, ” CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson said. “That this product was ever allowed on the market at all will go down in history as one of the biggest blunders at the FDA.”

     The victims’ cases forwarded today by CSPI are brimming with grisly reports of diarrhea, fecal incontinence, cramping, bleeding, and yellow-orange oil in toilet bowls and in underwear. Several of the victims required hospitalization, surgery, or other invasive or expensive procedures like colonoscopies.

     Other victims reported fecal incontinence while driving, shopping, exercising, dining out, or at other inconvenient or potentially dangerous times. Some parents reported their children had potty “accidents” after eating olestra chips, including one mother who said her son soiled four sets of clothing in three hours. One groomsman reported fainting and vomiting at a wedding after eating Fat Free Pringles. Another man required emergency room treatment after complaining of “violent” vomiting and “projectile” bowel movements after eating Wow! chips.

     In a letter to the FDA accompanying the latest adverse-reaction reports, Jacobson called on the agency to require Procter & Gamble to disclose to the FDA consumer complaints that it has received since January 2001. In 1996, the company agreed to make such periodic disclosures, but it has not done so in more than a year. Jacobson also urged the FDA to make the warning labels on olestra-containing snacks more prominent and to reject requests by P&G and Frito-Lay to delete the present warning label.