Prepared Foods November 8, 2004 enewsletter

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said that it would allow makers of olive oil products to make the claim that their products might reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

The claim is based on substantial but incomplete data, suggesting that people can cut their risk of heart disease if they consume the monounsaturated fat in olive oil and foods containing olive oil in place of foods with high levels of saturated fats, such as butter.

The new policy means that firms marketing these products now can claim that "limited and not conclusive scientific evidence" suggests that consuming about two tablespoons of olive oil daily may reduce the risk of heart disease, due to olive oil's monounsaturated fat.

Labels must disclose that, to get the heart benefit, consumers' intake of olive oil should replace a similar amount of saturated fat, but should not increase the number of calories taken in each day.

The FDA's action is part for its new "qualified claims" policy for foods -- which took effect last year -- that allowed food companies to make claims about their products' health benefits when the weight of the scientific evidence supports the claim, but not all of the data are in. Under the previous policy, foodmakers could not put such claims on their labels unless the health claim was backed by "significant scientific agreement," a tougher standard to meet.

The policy shift was part of former FDA commissioner Mark McClellan's effort to get the latest credible information on foods' health benefits to consumers as quickly as possible. Last year, regulators approved the claim of lower heart disease risk for walnut products.