Carcinogenic French fries

Lawsuit filed in US court demanding warning on labels

Published: Friday 30 September 2005

A lawsuit demanding warning labels on packets of French fries and potato chips, believed to contain high amounts of the chemical acrylamide, has been filed in a Los Angeles Superior Court in the US. Acrylamide is a carcinogenic chemical created when foods high in starch are subjected to high temperatures. The lawsuit was filed by California's attorney general Bill Lockyer. There are at least four other lawsuits pending on this issue in the US, targeting the same companies.

"All consumers should have the information needed to make informed decisions about the food we eat," said Lockyer in a statement. He claims the sale of these items without warnings violates a 1986 law (Proposition 65) that makes it mandatory to apply labels to packages of items that might contain carcinogens. The lawsuit has named nine food companies as defendants: Burger King Corporation; Cape Cod Potato Chips Inc; Frito-Lay Inc; H J Heinz Inc; Kettle Foods Inc; KFC Corporation; McDonald's Corporation; Procter & Gamble Distributing Co. and Wendy's International Inc.

The industry, however, argues that the lawsuit is misleading, as it suggests that foods cooked at home are not harmful. "It is bound to misinform people if you have a warning on French fries but not on a potato," says Michele Corash, a lawyer representing some of the defendants.

Scientists in Sweden first found in 2002 that food was a source of acrylamide. They found that carbohydrate-rich foods produced higher levels of the chemical than protein-rich foods when heated. The production of acrylamide increased with the increase in temperature. Since then, various health agencies, like the World Health Organisation and the US Food and Drug Administration, have studied the issue but haven't found conclusive evidence to prove that acrylamide causes cancer in humans.

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