McDonald's Corp., Burger King Corp. and seven other potato chip and French-fry makers were accused in a lawsuit of failing to warn California consumers that their products may contain a cancer-causing chemical.
California Attorney General Bill Lockyer said he filed a lawsuit today in Los Angeles seeking a court order that would require the companies to warn customers about acrylamide, a chemical known to cause cancer, Lockyer said in a statement.
“I am not telling people to stop eating potato chips or French fries,” said Lockyer in the statement. California law “requires companies to tell us when we're exposed to potentially dangerous toxins in our food,” the statement said.
California's Proposition 65 requires companies to post warnings about chemicals that are known to cause cancer or reproductive harm. Lockyer has filed lawsuits against canned tuna makers and supermarkets for failing to warn consumers about mercury contained in fish. Violations of Proposition 65 can bring civil penalties of up to $2,500 per day for each violation, reports Financial Express.
According to Reuters, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is studying the impact of acrylamide levels in food. In a March press release, the FDA said "acrylamide can cause cancer in laboratory animals at high doses, although it is not clear whether it causes cancer in humans at the much lower levels found in food."
Acrylamide is also widely used for industrial purposes, including sewage treatment.
Other defendants named in the suit include Burger King Corp., KFC Corp., a unit of Yum Brands Inc., for its KFC Potato Wedges, Kettle Foods Inc., makers of Kettle chips, which bills itself as a natural health food brand, and Cape Cod Potato Chips Co. of Hyannis, Massachusetts, a unit of Lance Inc..
In June, a California consumer group pressed the attorney general's office to take this action. At that time, Frito-Lay issued a statement saying its "food safety standards are very stringent and meet all federal and state regulations."
Procter & Gamble spokeswoman Kay Puryear said company researchers have been investigating issues raised by the 2002 acrylamide study, she said.
"Acrylamide is available whether those foods are prepared in a restaurant, at home or by the packaged goods industry," she said. "We stand behind, and absolutely think, our products are as safe as ever."
Burger King spokeswoman Edna Johnson said she had not seen the suit because her company's Miami headquarters had been closed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. "As a matter of company policy we don't comment on pending legal matters," she said.
Spokesmen for McDonald's, Wendy's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Cape Cod Potato Chips, Yum Brands and Kettle Foods were not immediately available to comment on Saturday.