PASS THE CHIPS
Still missing: the mother of all warning labels
I'm disappointed to learn that Frito-Lay has just agreed to warn consumers when its chips contain Olean (a.k.a. Olestra). In order to avoid a lawsuit from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, all of Frito-Lay's "Light" chips will now be marked with an Olean logo and a "Made with Olestra" banner.
Before I explain why I'm disappointed, here is a bit of background: In the late 1990s, Frito-Lay introduced WOW! chips containing Olestra. At the time, Frito-Lay was required to loudly announce the presence of the ingredient and include the warning label pictured above with the famous phrase, "loose stools".
Despite the warnings, weight-conscious people experimented with these new chips and absorbed the meaning behind the name WOW! -- as in, WOW! I am suddenly suffering from fecal incontinence! Or, WOW! Betcha can't eat just one chip before your stomach starts to cramp!
To nobody's surprise, the WOW! chips didn't go over well. Consumers immediately connected the product name with an exclamation mark to unwanted defecation marks.
But in 2003, after the Bush Administration put its stamp on the FDA, Frito-Lay was no longer required to include any Olestra-related warnings. Shady.
The FDA apparently considered the side effects of Olestra "mild and rare," in sharp contrast to studies by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which concluded that Olestra's harmful side effects are many.
Most notably, the CSPI report on Olestra contains the following passage:
Olestra causes gastrointestinal disturbances, which are sometimes severe, including diarrhea, fecal urgency, and more frequent and looser bowel movements. ...(Has there ever been a scientific study so full of disturbing, yet choice, phrases? What English major discharged the term "fecal urgency"? And what teenagers show their dirty underwear to their "friends and family"?)
Although underwear staining and anal leakage do not endanger consumers' physical health, those phenomena could cause psychological problems, including feelings of embarrassment and insecurity. Children and teenagers, especially, are likely to be disturbed about having dirty underwear, fearing embarrassment in front of friends and family. Snacking should be a pleasure undiluted with problems like dirty underwear.
As soon as the FDA relaxed its labeling requirements, Frito-Lay repackaged its WOW! chips as "Light" chips -- e.g., Doritos Light. So far as I know, they are identical to WOW! chips, except these bags don't contain any warnings. See below:
Until this week, the only way a consumer knew whether a product contained Olestra is if she had read the list of ingredients carefully.
Well now, after threatening litigation, the Center for Science in the Public Interest convinced Frito-Lay to place an Olestra label on the front of its "light" bags. (Frito-Lay still has no plans to print the potential side effects of Olestra again.)
So why I am disappointed upon learning about CSPI's noteworthy effort to force Frito-Lay to warn people about the presence of Olestra? Because it eliminates the fun.
Imagine how much more interesting a party is when the hosts are unaware they're feeding their guests food that causes anal leakage. It's like watching people mistake wasabi for green tea ice cream.
Of course, warning labels or not, you can always buy Frito-Lay's "Light" chips for your next party, pass them off as regular chips, wait for chaos to ensue, and watch as new meaning is brought to the phrase, "Pass the chips."