For Immediate Release: July 1, 1996
Contact: Richard Hébert, 202/332-9110 ext. 370
or Michael Jacobson, ext. 328
People who suffered diarrhea and abdominal cramps after eating Frito-Lay's Max chips made with the controversial fat substitute olestra today joined health advocates in calling for an end to the marketing of the products.
"Max chips are sending a wave of diarrhea and abdominal cramps across three test-market cities," Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), said at a Washington, D.C., news conference. "We're calling on Frito-Lay president Steven Reinemund to demonstrate his company's social conscience by pulling Max chips from grocery-store shelves. It's only a matter of time before the chips cause deaths."
Frito-Lay, with annual sales greater than $4 billion, is the nation's largest snack-food company. It is marketing chips in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Grand Junction, Colorado; and Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
CSPI also wrote to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner David Kessler urging him to immediately withdraw approval of olestra. CSPI also told Dr. Kessler that its research found that a majority of members of the FDA's advisory committee had connections to the food and chemical industries.
As of last week, CSPI had received more than reports of gastrointestinal distress in 196 people who ate "Max" potato and tortilla chips, Jacobson told the FDA. "In some cases the symptoms lasted for days," he said. "One 11-year-old boy missed three days of school. A 25-year-old nursing aide ate about 20 chips in the afternoon, and the next day she suffered cramps so severe she felt like she was being 'stabbed in the stomach.' A 43-year-old man in Cedar Rapids who ate two ounces of Max chips developed severe cramps and sat on the toilet for an hour with severe diarrhea; he said he thought he 'would die in the john.' Several people suffered fecal incontinence. Nothing can justify putting more people through the kind of pain and suffering that we are already witnessing."
He said that three hours after eating about three ounces of chips each, a 42-year-old woman in Grand Junction and several of her seven children started to feel sick. She had "horrendous" cramps and watery diarrhea that lasted about 24 hours. Two of her children also had bad cramps and watery diarrhea. One of her eight-year-old twins had diarrhea that smelled awful and was "bright mustardy yellow" in color. Her twenty-one-year-old daughter suffered "light cramps but severe diarrhea."
Other victims of what Jacobson called "the first snack food that bites back" gave firsthand accounts of their own encounters with olestra chips:
Dr. Ian A. Greaves, of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, said, "As I discussed with the FDA advisory committee last November, persistent severe diarrhea resulting from olestra could cause dehydration in young children and the elderly. I urge the FDA to ban olestra immediately."
Last week, CSPI also commissioned a market-research study by Bruskin Goldring Research in the three test cities. The study found that 20 percent of the people who tried the chips said that one or more people in their households experienced gastrointestinal problems. One-fifth of the problems were called "severe."
Frito-Lay is test-marketing the olestra-containing chips in only about thirty-one stores in the three small cities. If successful, it plans to expand its marketing nationwide. Other companies, including Procter & Gamble and possibly Nabisco, plan to introduce other snack foods made with the controversial fat substitute.
"The stories we are hearing would be multiplied more than a thousandfold if just Frito-Lay marketed Max chips nationally. Hundreds of thousands of people would suffer GI problems," Jacobson warned, "and even more people would suffer as other companies entered the market with olestra crackers, popcorn, cheese puffs, and other products. Snack foods are supposed to add a little pleasure to your day, not make you sick. Frito-Lay's reputation is literally going down the toilet."
Jacobson added, "Dr. Kessler must determine how his agency could have downplayed the evidence that olestra causes severe gastrointestinal symptoms. He must also investigate why the agency's Food Advisory Committee, which endorsed olestra last November, was stacked with members with obvious industry leanings. A majority of those who said that olestra was safe have connections to the food or chemical industries. It's time for Dr. Kessler to clean house."
CSPI has bought newspaper ads and television commercials to inform consumers of the problems associated with eating olestra and of CSPI's hot line -- 1-888-OLESTRA. CSPI also maintains an Internet site -- http://www.cspinet. org/olestra -- with up-to-date information about the anti-olestra campaign.
CSPI is a nonprofit health-advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1971, it is best known for its nutrition studies of restaurant food and for obtaining the "Nutrition Facts" panel on packaged foods. It is supported largely by the 750,000 subscribers to its Nutrition Action Healthletter and accepts no industry or government funding.