Health Group Decries California Acrylamide Lawsuit

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New York, New York -- August 2005. The lawsuit brought by California Attorney-General Bill Lockyer is unfortunate and contrary to the interest of public health, according to physicians and scientists associated with the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH). The lawsuit claims that the defendants, including McDonald's, Burger King, KFC and producers of several popular brands of potato chips, violate California's Proposition 65 because they do not warn consumers that some of their food items contain acrylamide, a substance produced when carbohydrate-rich foods are cooked at high temperatures.

Acrylamide has a variety of industrial uses, and its effects on human health at high doses have been studied. Even at the high levels found in occupational settings, acrylamide has not been demonstrated to be a human carcinogen. Further, scientific studies that have attempted to find an association between human consumption of acrylamide and the occurrence of various types of cancer have failed to do so.

AG Lockyer's suit rests on the requirement, under Califormia's Proposition 65, that any items considered by the state to be or to contain human carcinogens carry a warning label to that effect. Since the list of such compounds is determined to a large extent by high-dose animal tests, its relevance to human health is at best unknown. Further, the mere presence of a suspect compound is enough to trigger a Proposition 65 label -- thus, the actual amount of such an ingredient could be infinitesimally small, presenting no risk at all to anyone.

"In fact, there are many foods besides French fries and potato chips that contain acrylamide naturally," stated ACSH nutrition director Dr. Ruth Kava. Hundreds of foods -- from black olives and some baby foods to whole wheat bread and coffee -- would require a label if the AG were really trying to live up to the letter of Proposition 65. Indeed, to show the absurdity of the law, ACSH associate director Jeff Stier filed a lawsuit against Whole Foods Market demanding that they comply with Proposition 65 and advise consumers that their organic whole wheat bread also contained acrylamide.

Dr. Gilbert Ross, ACSH medical director, said, "At first glance, it seems that the AG is trying to protect consumers, but his lawsuit could have the opposite effect. The proliferation of warning labels mandated by the suit, if it were thoroughly enforced, would be quite counterproductive. Consumers would become 'warning-weary' and not pay attention to warnings that point to real dangers, such as those on cigarette packages."