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More Prominent Labeling For Olestra

Frito-Lay said Thursday its chips that contain olestra will bear more prominent labeling alerting consumers to the presence of the fat substitute.

The change wards off a lawsuit that a consumer group had threatened on behalf of a woman who said the snacks gave her stomach cramps and forced her to rush to the bathroom.

The Plano, Texas-based company, a division of PepsiCo Inc., will disclose on the fronts and backs of packages of its Light line of potato and corn chips that they are made with olestra, company spokeswoman Aurora Gonzalez said. Previously, the presence of olestra was noted only in the list of ingredients, as well as with a logo bearing its brand name, Olean.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest had threatened to sue Frito-Lay unless it better disclosed that its Light chips — including versions of Tostitos, Lay's and Ruffles — contained the fake fat. The Washington, D.C.-based consumer group said since 1996 it has received reports from more than 3,700 consumers who have experienced adverse reactions after eating products made with olestra.

"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 Jacobson.

The Food and Drug Administration approved olestra in 1996, despite concerns that it can cause diarrhea. The agency initially required products containing olestra to carry a warning label. In 2003, the FDA lifted the labeling requirement.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest contends that Frito-Lay downplayed the presence of olestra when in 2004 it rebranded its Wow! line of chips, renaming them Light. Jacobson said the switch fooled some consumers into buying olestra-containing products they had previously sought to avoid.

"A lot of those people are livid. They really felt tricked," Jacobson said.

Gonzalez said consumer comments suggested the Light name "better explained what the product was about."

In January, the Center for Science in the Public Interest alerted Frito-Lay that it intended to sue on behalf of a Massachusetts woman who became ill after eating Ruffle Light chips with olestra.

Besides the label changes, Frito-Lay agreed to give a $150,000 unrestricted grant to the Harvard Medical School's division of nutrition.

Olestra is made by Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble Co. The company uses the fat substitute in its fat-free Pringles chips.

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