Filed Under: Big Fat Lies

French fry lawsuit-mongers unmasked

Late last week a shadowy environmental group called the Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT) revived its earlier plans to sue McDonald’s and Burger King over outlandish claims that their French fries contain a substance (called acrylamide) that could cause cancer. Back in May, CERT was the first green group to announce acrylamide lawsuits against restaurant chains.

We’ve been telling you all about the questionable science behind the so-called acrylamide “risks.” Although it’s typically found in heated, starchy foods, scientists have announced the presence of acrylamide in spinach and beets as well, a finding that raises all sorts of questions about the wisdom of targeting French fries in the first place. Also lost amid the food police’s warning siren is the reality that you’d have to eat nearly twice your weight in Cheerios, every day, before you’d be in any real danger.

Starting with its first lawsuit in 2001 (a ridiculous and unproven claim that Starbucks’ tea contained illegal ephedrine), and continuing with both its September and May acrylamide-related lawsuits against McDonald’s and Burger King, CERT has managed to hide the identity of its members. Over a dozen news stories have mentioned CERT, or even quoted the group’s lawyer, without giving the public a clue about who’s behind it.

Today the Center for Consumer Freedom is able to fill in the gaps. According to CERT’s articles of incorporation — which we obtained from the California attorney general — its slate of officers includes:

Carl Cranor — professor of philosophy, University of California, Riverside, and one of the United States’ most ardent defenders of the misguided “precautionary principle.” Cranor also sat on California’s advisory panel for that state’s “Prop 65,” the law under which CERT’s lawsuits have been filed.

Martyn T. Smith — professor of toxicology at the University of California, Berkeley, and head of the environmental health sciences division at UC Berkeley’s school of public health.

C. Sterling Wolfe — a former licensed California trial lawyer who apparently gave up on the law around 1996 to pursue a film acting career. You might have seen him in the uncredited role of “frozen celebrity” in the first Austin Powers movie.

According to The Los Angeles Times, CERT’s suit seeks damages in the amount of “$2,500 a day for each violation of proposition 65.” Under the law, every order of French fries sold in California since the early 1990s would count as a “violation.” Cranor, Smith, and Wolfe haven’t yet told the press what they expect to do with their multi-billion dollar windfall.

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