WASHINGTON Following through on an earlier threat, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, or PCRM, said it plans to file a lawsuit Wednesday against KFC arguing that the chain has failed to warn consumers that its new grilled chicken contains a carcinogen.
The lawsuit, which PCRM said would be filed in a San Francisco Superior Court, is virtually identical to a complaint filed in 2008 targeting McDonald’s, Burger King, Chick-fil-A, Chili’s Grill & Bar, Applebee’s, Outback Steakhouse and T.G.I. Friday’s. That suit cited California’s Proposition 65 law requiring businesses in the state to post warnings about exposure to chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive harm.
PCRM cited in the 2008 lawsuit, as it will in this week's complaint, the potential dangers of PhIP, an amino compound that can occur when meat is grilled.
When asked about the pending lawsuit, KFC spokesman Rick Maynard reiterated that the chain “meets or exceeds all federal and state regulations for food safety, including Proposition 65."
Maynard also cited a 2006 letter from the California attorney general saying the matter was thoroughly investigated and that a warning label was not required for PhIP because cooking is necessary to kill potentially dangerous pathogens that can cause foodborne illness, which is deemed a greater risk.
That argument was applied in the earlier lawsuit, which was dismissed at the trial court level after a judge said federal law requiring the cooking of chicken to food-safe temperatures pre-empted Proposition 65 requirements.
Burger King was the only chain among the defendants that agreed to settle with PCRM. Burger King stores in California now include warning signs about the possible presence of PhIP.
PCRM, however, appealed the trial court ruling in July, saying there is no federal law regarding food-safe temperatures, only U.S. Department of Agriculture policy, and that public health and safety issues are traditionally governed by states.
KFC wasn’t included in the earlier suit because at the time it only served fried chicken, which has not been found to contain PhIP.
PCRM, a Washington-based advocacy group that encourages vegetarianism, had warned KFC months before the grilled chicken was introduced earlier this year that a lawsuit from the organization was likely.
After the product’s launch, PCRM said it obtained two samples from six KFC stores and sent them to an independent lab. Tests confirmed the presence of PhIP in all 12 samples, PCRM said.
“Grilled chicken can increase the risk of cancer, and KFC consumers deserve to know that this supposedly healthy product is actually just as bad for them as high-fat fried chicken,” Dr. Neal Barnard, PCRM’s president, said in a statement. “KFC should post warnings because its aggressively marketed new product harbors a chemical that increases the risk of breast cancer, prostate cancer and other forms of this lethal disease.”
Dan Kinburn, PCRM’s general counsel, said the group also is considering a separate lawsuit that would be filed in Connecticut against McDonald’s, Burger King and Friendly’s Ice Cream citing consumer fraud statutes.
Like the complaints in California, the goal is to force the chains to post warning labels, he said.