Posts Tagged ‘food safety’

California’s Prop 65: Protecting Us From the Evils of Cooked Chicken

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.

American Council on Science and Health
Prop 65 News Online

Previous coverage of the animal-rights group “Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine” on Overlawyered: Sep. 6 and links therein.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali in America

George Will profiles the brave Muslim feminist, which would be worthy of mention even if it didn’t lead off with this anecdote:

“While her security contingent waits outside the Georgetown restaurant, Ayaan Hirsi Ali orders what the menu calls “raw steak tartare.” Amused by the redundancy, she speculates that it is intended to immunize the restaurant against lawyers, should a customer be discommoded by that entree. She has been in America only two weeks. She is a quick study.”

See also Nov. 11, 2004; AEI, Aug. 28.

Update: anti-milk suit dismissed

A federal judge in the District of Columbia has dismissed a lawsuit against dairy manufacturers filed by the animal-rights group that calls itself the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). The lawsuit claimed that it was legally wrongful for producers not to label dairy products to warn of the risk of lactose intolerance (“District Court Dismisses Anti-Dairy Lawsuit”, USAgNet/Wisconsin Ag Connection, Sept. 5). Ted covered the suit Jun. 21, 2005; see also May 28, 2004. Bill Childs comments on the dismissal (Aug. 23) and also has details of a ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court (over two dissents) that a hair oil manufacturer did not have to warn of the dangers of ingesting its product.

“If something went wrong, we could be sued”

In Great Britain, a nursing home spokeswoman explains why visitors are allowed to bring in cakes and other baked goods only when they’re store-bought, not homemade. (Nanny Knows Best (U.K.), Jun. 14)(via Nobody’s Business). Other food menaces averted: Dec. 13, 1999 (homemade pies), Jan. 29, 2001 (cookies), Feb. 1-3, 2002 (figurines in New Orleans king cake), Apr. 15, 2004 (potluck dinners).

Soup-tampering does not pay

“A federal grand jury indicted a Stockbridge, Ga. man Thursday on charges he poisoned his own children with tainted soup in an attempt to extort money from soup maker Campbell’s.” Prosecutors say William Allen Cunningham, 40, on three occasions in January fed his children, aged 3 years and 18 months, soup spiked with dangerous substances which resulted each time in their hospitalization. Cunningham allegedly told police he planned to sue the Campbell Soup Company for money based on the injuries. (“Man Indicted For Poisoning Soup and Feeding It to His Children”, WXIA/FirstCoastNews, Jul. 7; Priscilla Rodriguez, “Dad accused of tampering with kids’ soup”, KNX NewsRadio, Jul. 7). And in Newport News, Va., Carla Patterson was sentenced to 12 months in jail as punishment for a scam in which she and her son Ricky claimed to have found a dead mouse in the soup at a Cracker Barrel restaurant, for which they sought $500,000 (Jun. 3, 2004); evidence indicated that the mouse had neither drowned nor been cooked, but had died of a fractured skull. (“Woman gets year in jail for mouse-in-soup scam”, WAVY-TV, Jul. 6; Beverly N. Williams, “Mother gets year in mouse soup case”, Newport News Daily Press, Jul. 6).

Caffeine as “drug”

It’s one of the premises of the anti-fizzy-drinks campaign (and presumably, after that, the anti-coffee and tea campaigns): when your kids drink Coke or Pepsi, they’re ingesting (shudder) a drug. Is it being taken seriously? Well, caffeine is now turning up as a prohibited substance in school zero-tolerance policies. (van Bakel, May 26). Can suspensions for possession of Dr. Pepper be far behind?

“Tortilla tossing missed”

“For some Fiesta revelers who love the madcap irreverence of Cornyation, it just isn’t the same event without the flying tortillas.” A San Antonio tradition for the past 15 years, the flinging of the circular staples of Tex-Mex cuisine among the audience was halted this year because of a you-know-what. (Lisa Marie Gómez, San Antonio Express-News, Apr. 27). Strange in San Antonio has more (Apr. 27). On the throwing of sacks of peanuts to the audience at Boston’s Fenway Park, see May 8, 2000.

Regulation vs. sous vide

We’re here from the government, and since we haven’t yet considered how to regulate your new cooking technique, we’re not going to let you use it (Dana Bowen, “With City Inspectors in Kitchen, Chefs Can’t Cook in a Vacuum”, New York Times, Mar. 9; Virginia Postrel, Mar. 10; Dana Bowen, “Chefs Wait for Rules on Sous Vide, as Experts Question Some Uses”, New York Times, Mar. 15)(& No Quarters).

Maquiladoras caused birth defects? $17M later, maybe not

In 1991 portions of Texas’s Rio Grande Valley saw an upsurge in babies born with neural-tube defects. Litigation resulted:

Residents and lawyers had blamed pollution, and General Motors and other U.S.-owned factories paid $17 million without admitting wrongdoing to settle a lawsuit accusing their border factories of poisoning the air.

The claimed linkage of cause and effect between the factory pollution and the birth defects was, to say the least, much controverted at the time, and is looking even less impressive in hindsight:

no chemical links to the disease were ever proven, and Texas health officials began suspecting fumonisin, a toxin in corn mold. Experts had noted a high concentration in the corn harvest just before the outbreak. Some Texas horses died from brain disease caused by the toxin.

Now, a study in the February issue of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives adds impetus to the corn-mold theory:

The study found that pregnant women who ate 300 to 400 tortillas a month during the first trimester had more than twice the risk of giving birth to babies with the defects than did women who ate fewer than 100 tortillas.

Blood samples indicated that the higher the level of fumonisin, the greater the risk of neural tube defects.

Tortillas are an inexpensive dietary staple along the Texas-Mexico border, and studies suggest that the average young Mexican-American woman along the border eats 110 a month.

(“Study: Bad corn caused birth defects”, AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Feb. 8). See also Dallas Morning News, Mar. 4, 2001; AP, Jan. 2001; Nicole Foy, “Border birth defects are tied to poverty”, San Antonio Express-News, Apr. 9, 2004.

Among its other implications, the episode may suggest the safety gains to be had in the shift from a pre-modern food regime based on local farm and home production to the sort of industrially based food regime more familiar to most Americans. Even aside from the issue of folic acid fortification, a big-city tortilla factory run by a large company would probably have had a better likelihood of screening out moldy batches of corn.