Filed Under: Food Scares Trial Lawyers

California: A Gold Rush for Nuisance Lawsuits?

The last time we wrote about California’s Proposition 65, we noted that Dunkin’ Donuts had cut online sales to California in fear of lawsuits under the overly broad toxics “right-to-know” law. The chain may have had the right idea: A recently filed notice of intent to file a lawsuit from California environmental activists now demands that soda companies recall their products and pay substantial fines for failing to label sodas as potentially cancer-causing.

The chemical this suit marks as harmful is 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI), part of the caramel coloring in colas. Guess who thinks it’s harmful: The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which is always happy to fan the flames of a good food scare. Sure enough, there is the usual rodent study that supports an alleged link, but given that anything can kill you in a large enough dose – even pure water – how worried should Californians be?

Not that worried, according to Dr. Fred Guengerich, a biochemistry professor at Vanderbilt University. Dr. Guengerich told ABC News: “If you look at the study in terms of what the mice got, in terms of causing any effect, a human being would have to drink more than 1,000 sodas a day.”

That wouldn’t be the first time that overzealous “health” campaigners took the results of a rodent study and blew them out of proportion to sue over scary-sounding chemicals. Despite studies showing that somebody would have to eat 182 pounds of French fries per day until they die to show any appreciable risk from acrylamide, all sorts of food companies have faced lawsuits over the presence of that chemical. Considering one analysis found that the trial bar kept over 60 percent of total awards, the Prop 65 nuisance suit looks more and more like the Golden State’s last unearthed gold nugget.



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