10 November 2004


Here's something I really envy about the American health regulating agencies.

Last week, the US FDA released this press statement regarding olive oil:

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today announced the availability of a qualified health claim for monounsaturated fat from olive oil and reduced risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).

There is limited but not conclusive evidence that suggests that consumers may reduce their risk of CHD if they consume monounsaturated fat from olive oil and olive oil-containing foods in place of foods high in saturated fat, while at the same time not increasing the total number of calories consumed daily.

"With this claim, consumers can make more informed decisions about maintaining healthy dietary practices," said Dr. Lester M. Crawford, Acting FDA Commissioner. "Since CHD is the number one killer of both men and women in the US, it is a public health priority to make sure that consumers have accurate and useful information on reducing their risk."

A qualified health claim on a conventional food must be supported by credible scientific evidence. Based on a systematic evaluation of the available scientific data, as outlined in FDA's "Interim Procedures for Qualified Health Claims in the Labeling of Conventional Human Food and Human Dietary Supplements", FDA is announcing the availability of this claim on food labels and the labeling of olive oil and certain foods that contain olive oil.

Although this research is not conclusive, the FDA intends to exercise its enforcement discretion with respect to the following qualified health claim:

  • Limited and not conclusive scientific evidence suggests that eating about 2 tablespoons (23 grams) of olive oil daily may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease due to the monounsaturated fat in olive oil. To achieve this possible benefit, olive oil is to replace a similar amount of saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day. One serving of this product [Name of food] contains [x] grams of olive oil.

[FDA News, Nov 1 2004]

"Availability of a qualified health claim."

"Informed decisions."

"Limited but not conclusive evidence."

Don't you just love hearing those words. It shows your government health agency is working for you. It shows they care enough to warn you about what possible benefit or harm you can do to your body when you ingest a particular food item or ingredient.

We have our own BFAD here, but I still yearn for the day when it will make its presence felt among Filipino consumers. It makes news only when a particular drug is withdrawn from the market. It exists mostly to process licenses of laboratories applying for accreditation.

Established in 1947, its mission states:
"To ensure the safety, efficacy, purity and quality of processed foods, drugs, diagnostic reagents, medical devices, cosmetics and household hazardous substances through state-of-the-art technology, as well as the scientific soundness and truthfulness of product information for the protection of public health."
Does it really? And what state-of-the-art technology is it talking about?

When will it "ensure the safety, efficacy, purity and quality of processed foods?"

Does it know how much sodium a typical noodle product packs and what possible harm it can do? How about refined sugars in sweet products? I'm not even talking about the fat content of processed foods here. How beneficial is coconut virgin oil? How safe are those water-refilling stations found in almost every corner of the city? I have a lot of questions. I bet you have too.

What is informed decision-making? Does it help consumers here make those kinds of decisions? What I see here is indifference and making random publicity stunts when the need arises, like in the case of PPA in decongestants and the Vioxx withdrawal. Other than that, it is very silent or it hadly makes its presence felt.

Look at olive oil as an example. I think of all the monounsaturated fat sources, olive oil is already the best. And yet, their FDA still issues this press statement that that health claim is now available, and the need to place it on product labels so people will know what they're buying.

I call that running the extra mile. But FDA people might disagree, they might say it is simply doing their job.

It is a pity we have none of both here.

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