Weil hopes this action will prompt Big Junk Food to change how it cooks chips and fries. Weil agrees there are too many warning signs -- although he argued that grocery stores, for example, post warning signs mainly to stop nuisance lawsuits. Lockyer is pushing the acrylamide issue, Weil said, because it is the government's job to dispense information and let consumers decide if they care about a possible carcinogen. As he put, acrylamide falls into "an in-between category. Depending on how you feel about it, you might want to eat it or you might not want to eat it."
Problem is, there are too many in-betweens -- some 750 other chemicals, according to Weil -- on the Prop. 65 list, and some of those chemicals are ubiquitous or naturally occurring.
As a result, consumers see so many warning signs they can't take them seriously. Even Lockyer isn't that alarmed. In a press release announcing the suit, Lockyer said, "I am not telling people to stop eating potato chips or French fries."
Now I ask you: If people shouldn't stop eating these foods, why post a warning? Michele Corash, a San Francisco attorney who represents five companies being sued by Lockyer, noted that there are so many warnings "we are immunizing the public to signs."
No lie. I've come down with a strong case of warning fatigue. I see the Prop. 65 signs not as valuable warnings, but as nagging. What else would you call a warning against doing something you do every day, like eating, or parking, or shopping?
And whatever I do, it must be wrong, because there's always a sign telling me that what I'm eating, drinking or buying is bad for me. If all of these things are so hazardous, why am I alive?
The scary part is that there are times when consumers need to know there is a danger. As in: You shouldn't drink this because it is poisonous. But consumers don't notice such warnings. Corash noted that sometimes "we need a way to warn consumers when there's a real hazard. Now we can't any more. You have to say: 'We really mean it this time. This isn't like the other warnings.'"
If Lockyer wanted to perform a true public service, he'd devise a way to whittle down the long list of Prop. 65 baddies. Instead, he's fattening up the list.
Oddly, Lockyer is taken this stand as he begins his bid to become state treasurer in 2006. Some treasurer he'd make. With this lawsuit, I'm convinced of only one thing: Lockyer knows how to waste money.
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