Imagine sitting down to a meal at famed California restaurant Chez Panisse, known for its dedication to organic-only cuisine, only to find this: “Warning: Portions of this meal are known to the state of California to cause cancer and/or birth defects.” Seem crazy? We think so. But considering the logic of California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, warning labels like that may very well be in the near future.
Using California’s Proposition 65, Lockyer recently sued a number of food companies and restaurants for failing to warn consumers about the chemical acrylamide in potato chips and French fries. Lockyer doesn’t want you to know that from spinach and asparagus to bread and beets, small amounts of acrylamide are practically everywhere. In fact, 40 percent of our calories come from foods containing acrylamide. Two of the potentially warning-worthy selections on Chez Panisse’s menu are the “Clam risotto with spinach and basil” and the “Bruschetta with heirloom tomatoes, pancetta, and arugula.”
A study published in the British Journal of Cancer in 2003 concluded that “High levels of acrylamide in foods such as chips (British for French fries), crisps (British for potato chips), and bread do not seem to raise the risk of cancer.”
As we’ve pointed out before, a 182-pound man would have to eat his weight in French fries — every day, for life — to be at an increased risk of contracting cancer.
So what’s driving Lockyer’s crazy crusade against potato chips? Ferguson suggests it might be his own self interest:
Proposition 65 has been a bonanza for trial lawyers, who have used it to collect money from hotels, country clubs, bait shops and makers of everything from billiard chalk to picture frames. At least three private Prop. 65 suits have been filed about food-borne acrylamide.
By filing his suit on behalf of the state, Lockyer greatly increases the chances that the trial lawyers will collect money from manufacturers of the targeted foods — in extortionary out-of-court settlements if not in outright jury awards.
Ferguson then quotes the Center for Consumer Freedom describing how acrylamide lawsuits are driven by more than just trial lawyers:
“French fries and potato chips are the favorite whipping boys for nutritional activists,” [CCF] says, referring to the public scolds at such outfits as the Center for Science in the Public Interest, who agitate for labeling, taxing and even banning foods they consider unwholesome. “There’s an odd synergy between the bounty-hunting trial lawyers and the activists who want to get different kinds of foods banned from school cafeterias.”