CSPI: Still Flinging Shit

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Last year the FDA lifted its requirement that foods containing the fat substitute olestra carry a daunting warning about "abdominal cramping and loose stools." It explained: "FDA concluded that the label statement was no longer warranted because 'real-life' consumption studies of products containing olestra showed olestra caused only infrequent, mild gastrointestinal (GI) effects. In fact, a 6-week study with more than 3,000 people showed that the group consuming olestra-containing chips experienced only a minor increase in bowel movement frequency compared to those people who consumed only full-fat chips."

But as Ruth Kava of the American Council on Science and Health notes, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the group mainly responsible for linking olestra to ghastly gastrointestinal symptoms, is still banging the toilet against the fake fat. This time CSPI objects to Frito-Lay's decision to rename its olestra-containing Wow! potato and tortilla chips, which will now be called Light.

CSPI warns that the chips are still "fried in the infamous, diarrhea-inducing fake fat known as olestra." It worries that "the move increases the odds that unwitting consumers will experience the cramps, diarrhea, bleeding, stained underwear, or incontinence associated with olestra."

Presumably Frito-Lay's name change is part of an attempt to shed the feces-stained image that CSPI has worked so hard to promote. But the new name also accurately reflects the fact that chips cooked in olestra have a lot fewer calories than ordinary chips. Given CSPI's frequently expressed concern about obesity, you might think that's an advantage it would welcome. But as I explained in Reason last year, CSPI's priorities don't make sense even from a strictly health-oriented perspective.

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  1. I eat the stuff all the time and have NEVER had any of the alleged gastro problems! They even taste better to me! Just wish they had more flavors!

  2. I don’t advocate banning Olestra, and I do think the CSPI is full of it about many things, but the five times I’ve had “Wow!” chips (and on two of those occasions I didn’t know what brand I was eating at the time), I’ve had very unpleasant after-effects. In other words, the product may not affect most people, but I don’t think the reports can be totally discounted either.

  3. That wins the award for most scatalogical H&R post. Nice work Jacob!

  4. I’m with SR. I can’t eat more than a few of those chips without having significant room-clearing GI issues.

  5. Mr. Sullum, I suppose you’ve looked at the six Procter & Gamble-supplied studies the FDA used in its evaluation. Did they seem soundly designed?

    Or do you suddenly trust the FDA’s judgement when it makes a decision that favors a large food or drug company?

  6. What’s all this fuss I hear about “loose stools”? I don’t understand why everyone is so upset. Whenever I sit down on a stool, I make sure it is securely anchored to the floor. If not, then I sit on another stool. I also don’t see what this has to do with eating potato chips..

  7. Sounds like this should be promoted as a cure for constipation.

  8. LISTEN UP PEOPLE,

    THE ‘Center for Science in the Public Interest’ IS A DEMOCRATICALLY FUNDED, LIBERAL, MONEY MACHINE FOR LIBERAL LAWYERS TO SITE ‘IMPRESSIVE SOUNDING, PSEUDO-SCIENCTIFIC STUDIES’ TO WIN BOGUS LAWSUITS AGAINST OUR MEDICAL, DRUG DEVELOPMENT AND MEDICAL RESEARCH ESTABLISHMENTS INORDER TO ENRICH THE LIKES OF JOHN EDWARDS AND TO SUBJUGATE THE ENTIRE FREE ENTERPRISE MEDICAL INDUSTRY TO BECOMA A GOVERNMENTAL ‘CASH COW’ AS A PRESENT FOR HILLERY RODHAM CLINTON RODHAM WHEN SHE RUNS IN 2008.

    PS CHECK OUT WELSLEY COLLEGE, IT’S WHERE THAT H. RODHAM DYKE WENT TO SCHOOL.

  9. My word, Sherry, quit shouting. It’s not that bad.

  10. Remember when margarine was required by law to be colorless, or pink? And now we’re forced to have scare labels on Olestra…same old deal.

  11. I use Olestra as a recreational drug. The side effects are kind of fun, except that it scares the dog.

  12. I was still in college when Olestra first came out and remember there was a hubub in my fraternity house amoung the lovers of food (both big and small). Since we’re all a bunch of scientists and engineers, we decided to experiment a little. Each of us bought a bag of the Wow chips and ate the whole thing that night. A few of us were gassier than normal, but no one complained about “rectal leakage” or a wierd film in the toilet. Granted, the experiment would hardly qualify as scientific, but some guys continued it with little effect.

  13. olestra causes sever abdominal cramps in many people, including me. And I can eat anything. The only reason olestra is on the market, is that it was developed in a Dept. Of Ag center in Peoria. IL. The Ag Dept. apparently made a bunch of money licensing it commercially and there are probably some recourse from the commercial interests if it doesn’t get approval from FDA

  14. no mo: You’re the first person I’ve heard claim that Olestra causes severe stomach cramps in “many” people, if “many” is understood to be a reference to a percentage rather than some absolute number. What is “many”, anyway? 80%? 25%? As for Olestra’s only being on the market because it was developed in an Ag center, I agree that that could be true, but I’d like to know whether you think it should be on the market, regardless of where it was developed. OK, some people – even “many” people can’t eat it without serious side effects. I have an allergic reaction to sunflower seeds. A friend of mine gets sick every time she drinks rum. I hope you wouldn’t argue that those shouldn’t be on the market either?

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