Lockyer, Food Industry Debate Warning Labels for Acrylamide
The New York Times on Wednesday examined the "showdown" between Attorney General Bill Lockyer (D) and the food industry over whether packages for foods such as french fries and potato chips packages should include warning labels about acrylamide, a chemical found in certain foods that might cause cancer.
Under California law, the state must regulate chemicals that can cause cancer or reproductive health problems and require companies to warn consumers about products that contain such chemicals. Studies have found that acrylamide, which is formed when starchy foods are heated at high temperatures, causes cancer in rats and mice, but "scientists do not know for certain that acrylamide is carcinogenic to humans at the levels present in food," the Times reports.
In August, Lockyer filed a lawsuit against McDonald's, Burger King, Frito Lay and six other food companies that seeks to require the addition of warning labels about acrylamide to all french fries and potato chips sold in California.
Meanwhile, FDA has called for more studies on acrylamide but currently does not support warning labels for foods that contain the chemical. FDA officials have said that the agency will conduct a risk assessment of acrylamide after the completion of a large study in 2007.
Edward Weil, deputy attorney general for California, said that Lockyer was "not trying to ban french fries," adding that the state had to take action because FDA and the California Environmental Protection Agency have not made regulatory decisions on acrylamide.
Kristen Power, director of state affairs for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said, "Acrylamide has been present in the food supply and safely consumed since human beings discovered that cooked food tastes good. It is in 40% of the calories consumed in the average American diet." However, Weil said, "The potato chips and french fries really stand by themselves as having high levels."
Legal experts have said that the lawsuit filed by Lockyer is "something of a longshot" but "likely to spur further action" on the issue, the Times reports (Warner, New York Times, 9/21).