Today the Los Angeles Times published a point-counterpoint smackdown between two lawyers on opposing sides of California’s notorious Proposition 65 law, the source of the Golden State’s warning label hysteria. For the past 23 years, Californians have read billions of warning labels that caution how all kinds of innocuous places and things are supposedly harboring hidden cancer risks: parking garages, fishing rods, costume jewelry, restaurants, even hospitals. So nobody should be surprised to discover that the attorney arguing in favor of expanding the law runs an organization that has benefited from litigating dozens of cases under Proposition 65. Including lawsuits against manufacturers of potato chips and balsamic vinegar.
That lawyer, James Wheaton, writes:
We never felt that Proposition 65 was designed to tell people what to do, but we felt people should be informed and decide how they wanted to act.
Quite honestly, I don’t think a lot of people are going to care about all the warnings — it depends on the circumstances. If you see a warning on the back of paint thinner, you are not going to care. You already know it’s dangerous. But if you see a warning on a package of food for a kid, then you might care.
Consumers might care more, but should they even bother? Acrylamide, the chemical that Wheaton campaigned to have banned from potato chips, is also found in sautéed and roasted asparagus, spinach, and beets. Should those vegetables carry the skull-and-crossbones label too?
In fact, you can find acrylamide in 750 different foods including olives, breads, coffee, rice, tomato sauce, gingerbread, prune juice, breakfast cereal, and fruit preserves. Yet none of these foods is a direct cause of cancer because you’d have to eat at least 62 pounds of chips, or 182 pounds of French fries, every day for a lifetime to significantly increase your risk of developing cancer from acrylamide.
Here’s a modest proposal: Instead of Proposition 65 telling us what we can’t consume, perhaps the government should just tell us what we can. It would be less of a time waster, and therefore less profitable for trial lawyers. (Like that will ever happen…)