California wants cancer warnings on french fries and chips

In an attempt to stop restaurant chains such as McDonald's and Wendy's from selling french fries without some form of warning, Bill Lockyer the Attorney General for California has filed a lawsuit to force manufacturers of potato chips and french fries to warn consumers about a potential cancer-causing chemical found in the popular snacks.

Lockyer is seeking, in a complaint filed on in Los Angeles Superior Court, an injunction to stop restaurant chains such as McDonald's Corp. and Wendy's International Inc. from selling french fries without some form of warning.

Others named were producers of potato chips and other packaged potato products like PepsiCo's Frito-Lay Inc. and Procter & Gamble Co., makers of Pringles chips.

Also included were Burger King Corp., KFC Corp., a unit of Yum Brands Inc., for its KFC Potato Wedges, Kettle Foods Inc., makers of Kettle chips, which bills itself as a natural health food brand, and Cape Cod Potato Chips Co. of Hyannis, Massachusetts, a unit of Lance Inc.

The injunction is calling for the manufacturers of such products to identify the dangers of high levels of acrylamide, a chemical that some studies have found is created when starchy foods are cooked at high heat.

The lawsuit alleges that companies have violated a state law passed in 1986 requiring companies to provide warnings before exposing people to known carcinogens or reproductive toxins.

In 2002, scientists found potatoes and other starchy foods cooked at high temperatures contained low levels of acrylamide, but other studies have questioned the potential toxicity of acrylamide to humans.

At present the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is studying the impact of acrylamide levels in food.

The FDA said earlier this year that "acrylamide can cause cancer in laboratory animals at high doses, although it is not clear whether it causes cancer in humans at the much lower levels found in food."

Apparently acrylamide is also widely used for industrial purposes, including sewage treatment.

Two months ago a California consumer group pressed the attorney general's office to take this action.

At that time, Frito-Lay issued a statement saying its "food safety standards are very stringent and meet all federal and state regulations."

Kay Puryear of Procter & Gamble, says their company researchers have been investigating issues raised by the 2002 acrylamide study. She insists that acrylamide occurs whether foods are prepared in a restaurant, at home or by the packaged goods industry and believes their products are as safe as ever.

Burger King spokeswoman Edna Johnson says it is company policy to not comment on pending legal matters.

Spokesmen for McDonald's, Wendy's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Cape Cod Potato Chips, Yum Brands and Kettle Foods were not immediately available to comment on Saturday.

According to state law, the attorney general's suit supersedes private claims filed by environmental groups in recent years against some of the same defendants.

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