FDA urged to withdraw approval of olestra Group cites illnesses caused by fat substitute


WASHINGTON -- A consumer group has asked the Food and Drug Administration to withdraw approval of a fat substitute, olestra, on the basis of a study that found that 20 percent of people who ate chips made with the product had gastrointestinal problems, 3 percent of them severe.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which hired a market research firm to conduct the study in the three test markets where the potato and tortilla chips are being sold by Frito-Lay, has also asked the company to remove the product from the market. Frito-Lay is selling the chips under the brand name Max in Eau Claire, Wis.; Grand Junction, Colo.; and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Lynn Markley, a spokeswoman for Frito-Lay, said the company "would never make any products that would intentionally cause people to become sick."

She added, "We are monitoring it closely."

Markley said that in the 10 weeks the chips had been on the shelves, only 67 people had complained to the company, with symptoms no more serious than those experienced by some people when they eat beans or spicy food.

The drug agency said it was eager to see the center's data.

Some gastrointestinal problems were expected when olestra, which is being marketed under the brand name Olean, was approved. According to tests done by Procter & Gamble Co., which manufactures olestra, a statistically significant number of healthy people who ate less than an ounce a day of potato chips containing olestra developed a wide range of gastrointestinal problems.

As a result of these findings, foods containing the fat substitute are required to carry a warning label: "This product contains olestra. Olestra may cause abdominal cramping and loose stools." P&G must also forward complaints to the drug agency.

In Bruskin Goldring's study for the center, 500 households were randomly selected and questioned by telephone about their experience with the chips. The survey found 135 households in which people had tried Max chips. (The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.) Forty-eight people in 27 of those households experienced adverse effects. When asked to describe their symptoms as mild, moderate or severe, 9 of those people described their symptoms as severe.

Olestra, a synthetic chemical of sugar and vegetable oil, travels through the body without leaving any calories behind.

For potato chip lovers, the consumption of the fat-free chips offers substantial caloric savings: An ounce of regular chips has 10 grams of fat and 150 calories, while olestra chips have just 60 calories and no fat.

Pub Date: 7/02/96

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