AUGUST 27 : McDonald's Corp., Burger King Corp. and seven other potato chip and French-fry makers were accused in a lawsuit of failing to warn California consumers that their products may contain a cancer-causing chemical.
California Attorney General Bill Lockyer said he filed a lawsuit today in Los Angeles seeking a court order that would require the companies to warn customers about acrylamide, a chemical known to cause cancer, Lockyer said in a statement.
``I am not telling people to stop eating potato chips or French fries,'' said Lockyer in the statement. California law ``requires companies to tell us when we're exposed to potentially dangerous toxins in our food,'' the statement said.
California's Proposition 65 requires companies to post warnings about chemicals that are known to cause cancer or reproductive harm. Lockyer has filed lawsuits against canned tuna makers and supermarkets for failing to warn consumers about mercury contained in fish. Violations of Proposition 65 can bring civil penalties of up to $2,500 per day for each violation.
Walt Riker, a spokesman for No. 1 McDonalds, didn't return a message left on voicemail. A message left at Burger King's corporate communications office voicemail wasn't returned because the office was closed due to Hurricane Katrina.
Acrylamide is a by-product created by the reaction of chemicals in food and high heat and has been found at low levels in a wide variety of foods, Lockyer's statement said.
California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment has estimated that people who eat french fries receive up to 125 times the amount of acrylramide that requires a warning under current regulations and consumers of potato chips receive up to 75 time the level, Lockyer said.
At least three private lawsuits accusing some of the same companies of failing to post warnings are pending in state court in Los Angeles, Lockyer said.
In addition to McDonald's and Burger King, the suit names PepsiCo Inc.'s Frito-Lay unit and Wendy's International Inc. Mark Dollins, a spokesman at PepsiCo, and Bob Bertini, a spokesman for Wendy's, didn't return messages left on voicemail after hours.