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Bloomberg News

The Globe and Mail, April 24, 2006

After criticism of the Coalition against Bayer Dangers

Bayer cuts ties to speed eating

Bayer AG, the German maker of the Alka-Seltzer heartburn pill, has severed ties with a U.S. group that promotes speed eating, a spokesman says.

Last year's U.S. Open of the International Federation of Competitive Eating Inc., which organizes eating contests around the world, was sponsored by Alka-Seltzer, according to the IFOCE's website. "This was a one-off marketing event, which won't be repeated," Bayer HealthCare spokesman Hartmut Alsfasser said. Bayer's U.S. marketing staff took the decision to sponsor the event, Mr. Alsfasser said. "We became aware of it and stopped it immediately."

Takeru Kobayashi and Sonya Thomas, who hold the top two positions on the IFOCE's eaters ranking, competed with 30 other contestants for a total $40,000 (U.S.) in prize money at the event in Las Vegas last July. Nagano, Japan-based Mr. Kobayashi, 27, is famed for swallowing 57 cow brains in 15 minutes, while Ms. Thomas, from Alexandria, Va., has eaten 65 hard-boiled eggs in six minutes and 40 seconds, according to IFOCE.

"People overdo it," according to Bayer's latest U.S. ads for Alka-Seltzer. "That's why for 75 years they've reached for Alka-Seltzer to break up and dissolve away stomach discomfort and pain, fast."

Bayer's association with IFOCE drew criticism from the Coalition Against Bayer Dangers, a group that campaigns against the German company, saying it causes "ecological, social, ethical and political problems around the world."

"It is obvious to all that excessive eating is a danger to health," said Hubert Ostendorf, a spokesman for the group in an e-mailed statement yesterday. "Paradoxically, Bayer offers remedies to cure the diabetes that is often caused by the very events they are sponsoring."

Almost a third of adults, or around 60 million people, in the U.S. are obese, according to the American Obesity Association Web site. The chronic condition is linked to diabetes, heart disease and cancer and is the second-highest killer among preventable diseases, AOA says. It estimates annual health-care costs related to obesity at around $100 billion.
ANGELA CULLEN (Bloomberg News)