That helped get the FDA to approve olestra, but that approval came with the warning label. Sales of Frito-Lay's Wow! Chips and P&G's Fat Free Pringles, each launched in 1998, were initially strong, but quickly declined.
P&G quickly went back to the lobbying drawing board.
Conservative "experts" soon began advocating for a change, calling the Clinton-era FDA "too conservative" and "irresponsible." This in spite of two studies from Proctor & Gamble, in 1993 and 1995, supporting the FDA warning.
The conservative noise machine also began discrediting olestra critics, including CSPI. Among those leading the fight were Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, who attacked the watchdog group via a column in USA Today, failing to note that his institute receives $125,000 annually from P&G's foundation. Also helping wage war against the watchdog group was The New Republic's Stephen Glass, who soon thereafter was found to be a habitual liar.
At the same time, P&G and PepsiCo more heavily tilted their campaign contributions to favor Republicans, both at the presidential and congressional levels. P&G, for example, splits its contributions almost evenly among Republicans and Democrats in the early 1990s, but from 1996-2000, more than 80% of its contributions went to Republicans — the opposition party.
Is it any surprise that the Bush-era FDA changed its ruling on the need for a warning label?
Perhaps as a thank you, each company favored Republicans in their 2004 contributions.
With the warning label obstacle overcome, sales began to turnaround.
But sales for Frito-Lay sharply increased a year later, when the company changed its products name from Wow! to "Light," a move CSPI says "was designed to intentionally deceive people into thinking that the product was an entirely new olestra-free lower-calorie chip."
It's because of the perceived deception that CSPI is undertaking its lawsuit. Chips in Frito-Lay’s “Light” line include Doritos Light, Lay’s Light original and barbecue, Ruffles Light original and cheddar and sour cream, and Tostitos Light.
P&G continues to use the Fat Free Pringles name. Two other chip makers, Herr’s and Utz, dropped their olestra chips. Canada and the United Kingdom both rejected the use of olestra.
Even in consumer-friendly Massachusetts, the CSPI lawsuit is a longshot.
Edgar Dworsky, a former consumer attorney with the Massachusetts attorney general's office, said the FDA's decision in 2003 to do away with the olestra health warning would seem to protect Frito-Lay from any legal action. ''I think the case is sunk," he told the Boston Globe.
But at least somebody is trying to look out for consumers, and take a stand against the Bush Administration's corporate-at-any-price approach.