America has become the country of the warning label. California is the warning-label state. Since California voters approved Proposition 65 -- which mandates warnings when people are exposed to known carcinogens or chemicals that cause birth defects -- in 1986, to live in California is to be warned.
Most office buildings and parking garages post Prop. 65 warnings. When you fill your gas tank, there's a warning. When you go to a department store or a restaurant, there are warnings. Ditto the grocery store, where there are warnings not just about lighter fluid, nail polish and the effects of alcohol, but for fruits and vegetables, nuts and fish.
Now, if Attorney General Bill Lockyer has his way, you can expect warning labels for fast-food French fries and potato chips.
If he succeeds, the legislature might as well post a billboard at the border that reads: Eating in California can be hazardous to your health.
In these tight fiscal times, you'd think Lockyer could find a better use of taxpayer money than to spend it in a push to warn the public about something any high-school student knows. French fries are bad for you.
But never passing a chance for a good press release, Lockyer filed a lawsuit against a number of fast-food chains and junk-food producers because their French fries and potato chips contain trace amounts of acrylamide -- a chemical found in asparagus and olives, a natural byproduct of cooking certain starchy foods.
While Lockyer is alarmed, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration isn't sure acrylamide is bad for you. In March, the FDA issued a press release that stated, ''Acrylamide can cause cancer in laboratory animals at high doses, although it is not clear whether it causes cancer in humans at the much lower levels found in food.''
Ed Weil of the attorney general's office thinks the FDA is wrong. He cites U.S. Environmental Protection Agency limits on acceptable acrylamide, which is used to treat drinking water, as lifelong exposure can lead to "damage to the nervous system, paralysis, cancer." Weil notes that the Environmental Protection Agency limits acceptable acrylamide amounts to 0.5 micrograms per liter of water, while the government found 40 micrograms in the average serving of chips or fries.