Why is this warning inside the tub?

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I HAVE BEEN anticipating the arrival of functional foods with a certain amount of dread. As a consumer, particularly in the midst of the current furore over genetically modified crops, I have grown tired of being told by those responsible for putting new foods into the marketplace "we don't really know how they work", and, by extension, "so we can't tell you what any adverse long-term consequences might be". So here we have a new miracle margarine that lowers cholesterol, somehow.

But first, and without prejudice, a taste test. The three Benecol products I tried were a margarine and two cream cheeses, one flavoured with garlic and herbs. The margarine spreads straight from the fridge and looks and tastes really very similar to Flora. In fact it tastes rather better insofar as it tastes of less.

The cheeses do not have so much of a hint of the plant stanols they contain. The flavoured cream cheese is not unlike Boursin but not as nice, and the plain one is not unlike Philadelphia but again not as nice. If you are a consumer of any of the latter products I don't think you will find Benecol displeasing. What does concern me is the labelling and marketing of the margarine.

Having bought it you will find inside the tub, on the paper that seals the margarine, a warning to pregnant women which I suspect should extend to the vast majority of the population who don't need to lower their cholesterol, in particular small children. Why doesn't this advice appear on the outside of the margarine tub?

Most of us need all the vitamins, minerals and fats that a healthy, balanced diet has to offer. How many people are going to end up eating this unwittingly, or else buying it in the belief that it is "healthier" than normal margarine, or that it will help them lose weight?

Nobody should set about lowering their cholesterol unless they have been advised to do so by a doctor. Benecol dietary supplements may indeed be very valuable to the small sector of the population who need to lower their cholesterol. But they are medicines or foods that should be used in conjunction with medicines, and as such should be sold in chemists and healthfood shops, not pushed onto an unsuspecting public, most of whom shouldn't be eating them. And, given the ignorance that surrounds the mechanism of the product, could be harmed, not helped.

Annie Bell is a food writer for The Independent