Many of you may be aware of California’s “Proposition 65,” passed in 1986 and intended to help consumers by requiring warnings of any known exposure to a variety of chemicals, many of them carcinogens, that the state identifies on its Prop 65 list. In practice, many would argue, the law has done more to help plaintiffs’ attorneys than consumers, by creating an enormous list of allegedly dangerous substances and permitting a lawsuit whenever warnings of those substances are not posted — whether or not there is any realistic risk of harm under the particular circumstances.
Here’s a good example. Those listed chemicals include “heterocyclic amines” (HCAs) which are formed by cooking meat, the highest concentration occurring in cooked chicken. And so a group called the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine recently sued several restaurant chains, including McDonald’s, Burger King, and Outback Steakhouse, charging them with failure to warn customers that they cook meat. That is, failure to warn customers about the activity that is the precise reason that those customers are going there in the first place.
According to the National Cancer Institute, while HCAs may have some association with increased risks of cancer, there is currently “no good measure of how much HCAs would have to be eaten to increase cancer risk” — more research is needed. In fact, the NCI cited to one study that specifically covered fast-food restaurants and concluded that those companies’ products had low levels of HCAs. According to that study, home cooking was a greater danger. But that’s the beauty of laws like Prop 65 — evidence tends to be optional.
Previous coverage of the animal-rights group “Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine” on Overlawyered: Sep. 6 and links therein.