Whole wheat hooey

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Whole Foods Market bills its Whole Wheat Farm Bread as the "stuff of life."

That may be, but it's also now the stuff of lawsuits.

The American Council on Health and Science, a conservative watchdog group, is preparing to sue the upscale, crunchy food chain, contending its baked wheat bread contains the chemical acrylamide. A letter of intent to sue has been filed with the Attorney General's Office, according to Jeff Stier, attorney for the group.

Acrylamide, in very large doses, has been shown to cause cancer in laboratory rats. Under Proposition 65, passed in 1986 and meant to help consumers make informed choices, any product containing acrylamide must contain a warning label. Whole Wheat Farm Bread has no such label.

Since 1988, more than $250 million has been awarded to plaintiffs who have sued under Prop. 65.

Stier said that by targeting such an obviously healthful, wholesome bread and popular organic food market, the watchdog group hopes to point out what it sees as the absurdities of Prop 65. The group has been a public opponent of Prop. 65 for years, arguing that many of the chemicals it requires disclosure of are perfectly healthy in small doses.

"I enjoy whole wheat bread," Stier said. "It's Proposition 65 that is sick."

A spokeswoman for Whole Foods Market, a publicly traded company based in Texas, characterized the council's move as simply a way to attract attention to a political crusade.

"They never intended to sue us it is just a publicity stunt and they've apologized to our lawyers," said Kate Lowery, spokesman for the corporation. "We didn't appreciate them using our name."

But Stier said no such apology was made and promised to follow through on the lawsuit.

"They are trying to bully us," he said. "If they think they are in violation they should go ahead and put a warning label on their bread. If they don't think they are in violation of the law, they have nothing to worry about."

The lawsuit was prompted by a new study by the Swedish National Food Administration showing that 100 samples of bread, biscuits, chips and french fries contained high levels of acrylamide. The study which prompted another suit, against Burger King concluded that the chemical "formed in many types of food when cooked at high temperatures."

Outside of the Whole Foods Market on California Street Wednesday, shoppers said they have regarded all sorts of labels and warnings with skepticism especially if it's more expensive.

"I only buy granola and milk here," said Kathryn Burke, who lives near Polk Street. "I buy all my produce in Chinatown, where nothing is labeled, and it's half the price."