LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A U.S. health education group on Wednesday took legal action against the world's largest retailer of natural and organic foods in a bid to highlight what it called absurd food health scares.
A legal notice targeting whole-wheat and organic bread sold by the U.S. chain Whole Foods Market was filed by the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) after a worldwide scare over acrylamide, which can cause cancer in animals.
Preliminary scientific studies have found that acrylamide a substance found in fries, potato chips, water, coffee and carbohydrate rich foods such as bread that are fried or baked can cause cancer in animals. The World Health Organization last month said acrylamide was a cause of concern but more research was needed about the possible effect on humans.
"We are not suggesting that their whole-wheat organic bread is dangerous. We are not seriously suggesting this bread can make you sick. Clearly people are not at risk," said Jeff Stier, associate director of the ACSH.
"We want the American public to focus on the real health concerns, such as cigarette smoking and wearing bicycle helmets and eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, rather than focusing on food scares," Stier told Reuters.
The legal notice of intent to sue Whole Food Market, which has 133 stores across the United States, was filed under California's Proposition 65 law, which requires manufacturers to withdraw or label foods and other products containing potentially toxic chemicals.
PROPOSITION 65 'ABSURD' AND 'FLAWED'
Proposition 65, passed by voters in 1986, has been used against makers of products ranging from crayons to dental braces, and California buildings ranging from dry cleaning stores to gas stations are plastered with consumer warnings.
"We are doing this to illustrate the absurdity of Proposition 65. The whole law is flawed. It is ill-advised," Stier said.
The letter sent by the ACSH to the Austin, Texas headquarters of Whole Foods Market, alleges that "All people are exposed when they ingest and eat your products" citing whole wheat bread and organic bread.
Whole Foods Market and the California attorney general have 60 days to reply to the letter, which constitutes a legal notice of intent to sue under the terms of Proposition 65. Whole Foods Market has yet to receive a copy of the notice.
The nation's top French fry sellers, McDonald's and Burger King have already been targeted in the acrylamide scare by a small California environmental group which has been accused in the past of "bounty hunting" for flooding California authorities with Proposition 65 notices.
Burger King said last week the legal action was "frivolous and totally ludicrous."
The New York based ACSH, a nonprofit consumer education consortium, was founded in 1978 by scientists with a mission to help Americans distinguish between real and hypothetical health risks. It receives some funds from food and chemical industries under a "no strings attached" policy.
Stier said Proposition 65 laws were at fault for failing to distinguish between the effect of toxins and carcinogens on animals and on humans, and the failure to state how big a dose of toxins in food or the environment was needed to pose a real threat to human health.