When in California, don’t eat the whole wheat bread

Published October 1, 2002

Long before New Jersey Democrat Jon Corzine sponsored Senate Bill 1602, the California legislature passed its own bill demonizing chemical science.

Proposition 65, enacted in 1986, requires all products to bear a warning label if they contain a chemical known to cause cancer in laboratory animals. Moreover, Proposition 65 authorizes “watchdog” suits by which private citizens or organizations can recover up to $3,000 per day for each day a manufacturer violates its labeling obligations.

Similar to SB 1602, Proposition 65 places politics, junk science, and scaremongering ahead of sound science. After all, animal tests have only a limited ability to predict human cancer susceptibility. Many chemicals that cause cancer in rats or other animals are perfectly safe for humans. Moreover, cancer links in laboratory animals frequently require chemical doses far in excess of what animals or humans would ever be exposed to outside the laboratory.

“It’s the dose that makes the poison,” explains Jeff Stier of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH). He calls that the number one rule of toxicology.

What’s good for the goose …

To illustrate its point, ACSH has announced a “watchdog” suit of its own. The Council is suing Whole Foods Market for failing to place cancer warning labels on its Whole Wheat Farm Bread. Whole Foods Market is a chain that prides itself on selling only products that do not contain synthetic chemicals. Nevertheless, according to ACSH, Whole Wheat Farm Bread contains small amounts of acrylamide, a naturally occurring chemical that causes cancer in laboratory rats.

While Stier doubts Whole Wheat Farm Bread causes cancer in humans, the suit illustrates the hoops through which producers of perfectly safe products must jump to sell their wares in California. Usually it is man-made chemicals singled out for harassment. However, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, says ACSH.

“The public should be informed that a risk to health depends on both the degree of hazard as well as the degree of exposure to any potentially toxic substance,” explained ACSH President Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. “Brief exposures are extremely unlikely to pose a real health risk. Prop 65 masks this fact by its failure to assess and communicate risk reasonably.”

Whole Foods Market spokesperson Kate Lowery agrees with ACSH that Proposition 65 is misguided.

“We agree with the absurdity of what [ACSH is] trying to propose in their news release,” said Lowery. “We obviously don’t agree with them using our name.”