Fatty issue sparks food protest

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The Independent Online
Plans by the food giant Procter & Gamble to introduce a revolutionary and controversial "fat-free fat" into Britain will go ahead despite claims that the product has unpleasant side-effects.

Olestra has already been approved for use in snack foods by authorities in the United States, and crisps containing the product are being test-marketed among American consumers by the potato chip manufacturer Frito-Lay.

But safe food campaigners in Britain claim that the substance is "anti- nutritional ... and will not encourage healthier diets". Dr Tim Lobstein, co-director of the Food Commission, said: "There have been complaints from people trying olestra that it 'leaks', leading to stained underwear, and that it makes the toilet oily."

Because of its unique chemical composition, olestra, which is manufactured from sugar and vegetable oil, adds no fat or calories to food. But the US Federal Drug Administration, in backing the product earlier this year, said it may cause cramping and loose stools. It concluded that the side effects would not normally carry medical consequences, but that labels should advise consumers to stop using olestra if necessary.

Lindsay Williams, UK public affairs manager for Procter & Gamble, confirmed that the company had applied to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for olestra to be approved in Britain. He declined to confirm that Pringles potato chips would be among the first products to contain olestra if it was sanctioned.

Mr Williams dismissed the Food Commission's fears as "an old chestnut", insisting that the problem of "oily leaks" may have existed early on, but had now been solved. "What olestra does is allow people to enjoy the great taste of fat without actually having fat in their diet," he said.

Mr Williams insisted that olestra was not being sold as a slimming aid, but as a healthy alternative to fat.