State Considers Requiring Warning for Foods That Produce Carcinogen When Cooked
The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment might require grocery stores, retailers and restaurants to alert customers about acrylamide, a carcinogen created when starchy foods are cooked at high temperatures, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. OEHHA officials say they have "little choice" in the matter under Proposition 65, the state anti-toxics law, because acrylamide is included on a state list of carcinogens, according to the Chronicle.
Acrylamide is a synthetic polymer used for gout and sewage treatment, but it also is created when starchy foods are cooked at high temperatures.
OEHHA said the proposed warnings are justified because "dietary factors affect an individual's cancer risk," adding that it is "plausible that dietary acrylamide contributes to the rate of cancer observed in the population."
The state has drafted sample warnings that could be placed on labels of foods -- including breads, cereals, olives, potatoes and nuts -- or near the products on grocery store shelves. Officials said restaurants could use existing Proposition 65 signs to warn customers about potential health implications of acrylamide.
Carol Monahan, chief counsel of the OEHHA, said, "Providing a warning at the point of sale seemed like the best and most reasonable approach."
Critics of the warning say it is not justified and would cause unnecessary public concern that could lead to unhealthful and unneeded dietary changes.
James Coughlin, a toxicologist hired by the coalition opposing the warning, said consumers should be more concerned about the risk of cancer from obesity, overconsumption of calories, fat and alcohol, and underconsumption of fruits, vegetables and cereals.
Anna-Marie Stouder, senior legislative director for the California Restaurant Association, said, "Acrylamide has been around since man has cooked with fire. We support a labeling exemption for chemicals formed in foods produced by naturally occurring constituents during cooking."
The state is considering the exemption. FDA for the past three years has been conducting studies on the effects of acrylamide (Lucas, San Francisco Chronicle, 5/25).