Frito-Lay Agrees to Label Fake Fat Olestra More Clearly on its “Light” Chips

Agreement with CSPI Avoids Litigation


Frito-Lay will avoid a lawsuit threatened by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) by disclosing more prominently on labels the presence of the controversial fat substitute olestra, or Olean, on its “Light” line of potato chips and tortilla chips. In January, CSPI notified Frito-Lay of its intent to file a lawsuit on behalf of a Massachusetts woman who became ill after eating Ruffles Light chips, which are made with olestra. Olestra causes diarrhea, cramping, fecal incontinence, and other symptoms in a small percentage of consumers, and CSPI contended that in 2004 the company downplayed the presence of that ingredient when it changed the name of its olestra-containing chip line from “WOW!” chips to “Light.”

As part of a settlement agreement, Frito-Lay will prominently display an oval-shaped Olean logo and a banner reading “made with olestra” on fronts and a short statement noting the presence of olestra on the backs of packages of Doritos Light, Lay’s Light, Ruffles Light, and Tostitos Light. Frito-Lay will also make a $150,000 award to the Harvard Medical School Division of Nutrition, which was not a party to the dispute.

“We’re pleased that Frito-Lay agreed to these modest changes, which are sufficient to avoid a lawsuit and will help consumers who know enough to avoid Olestra to do so,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “That this unsavory chemical was allowed to enter—and remain—in the food supply at all represents a serious mistake by the Food and Drug Administration.”

More than 3,700 consumers have filed reports on CSPI’s web site about adverse reactions to olestra-containing products since 1996. From CSPI and industry, the FDA has received more than 20,000 reports from consumers experiencing everything from cramping and fecal urgency to extreme diarrhea. Some people sought emergency room treatment and some were hospitalized.

Despite having received more complaints about olestra than any other food additive in history, in 2003 the FDA dropped its requirement for a warning label on olestra-containing chips.

CSPI is increasingly turning to the courts to stop deceptive advertising and labeling and unfair practices in part because, it says, the FDA, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Federal Trade Commission do virtually nothing in the area. In recent months, CSPI has struck settlements with several other companies over deceptive labels (including with Tropicana and Quaker, both corporate cousins of Frito-Lay, and Pinnacle Foods). In January, CSPI and the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood announced a planned lawsuit against Kellogg and Viacom/Nickelodeon aimed at curbing junk-food marketing aimed at children under eight. Earlier this month, the nation’s biggest soft drink manufacturers headed off another planned CSPI lawsuit by agreeing to pull sugary soda out of schools in an agreement brokered by former President Bill Clinton, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, and the American Heart Association.

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