McDonald’s, Burger King Accused of Selling Cancer-Causing Chicken
Quote:McDonald’s Corp.,Burger King Holdings Inc. and Friendly Ice Cream Corp. were accused in a lawsuit of selling chicken they know contains a chemical that can cause cancer even in small amounts.
McDonald’s, the world’s biggest restaurant company, and the other dining chains were sued today in state court in Hartford, Connecticut. The complaint, filed by Washington-based Cancer Project on behalf of two Connecticut residents, seeks class- action, or group, status on behalf of people who bought or ate the grilled chicken from October 2006 to this month.
“We’re not looking to have them stop selling the product,” Daniel Kinburn, a lawyer with the Cancer Project, said in a phone interview. “The product is a legal though dangerous product that should be sold with a warning, like a chainsaw.”
A similar suit against seven restaurant chains in 2006 and another against Yum! Brands Inc.’s KFC unit last month were filed in California. That state listed the chemical, PhIP, which forms during the grilling process, as a known carcinogen in 1994, according to the complaint.
“At McDonald’s we have some of the highest food safety standards in the industry,” Cynthia Goody, director of nutrition at the company, said in an e-mailed statement. “There is no scientific evidence to suggest the small amount of PhIP that can be created as a byproduct of cooking methods humans have employed for thousands of years poses a health risk.”
“Burger King Corp. believes the lawsuit filed in Connecticut by the Washington-based Cancer Project has no merit,” the company said in an e-mailed statement. “The compound referred to in the lawsuit, PhIP, is a naturally occurring by-product of the normal cooking process and is produced when any poultry, meat or fish is broiled, fried or grilled. There is no evidence that the small amount of PhIP contained in food poses a significant health risk.”
“We ensure that we meet or exceed all guidelines and regulations for food preparation and safety,” Maura Tobias, a spokeswoman for Friendly’s, said in an e-mailed statement. “Very low levels of PhIP occur naturally when any meat is grilled, including cooking at home.”
The companies “concealed the presence of a known carcinogen in their grilled-chicken products to retain profits that would be lost, in whole or in part, as a result of properly informed consumers choosing other food products,” the residents said in their complaint.
Burger King settled the first suit and agreed to post warnings in its California restaurants, Kinburn said. The company wouldn’t agree to a national settlement, he said. The case is otherwise unresolved, he said. KFC was sued separately because it added grilled chicken to its menu in April, he said.
“Dozens of studies show even relatively small amounts of PhIP can increase the risk of various forms of cancer,” Kinburn said.
The residents who filed the Connecticut suit, Rebecca Delio, of Stamford, and Mary-Ann Ellison, of Meriden, want the court to force the companies to include warnings in their restaurants, menus and advertisements that the food is known to contain chemicals that cause cancer.
Delio ate grilled chicken from one of the three companies’ restaurants once a week, and Ellison four times a month at a McDonald’s in Wallingford, according to the complaint. Both stopped buying the grilled chicken about a year ago when they learned of the cancer risk, they said in the complaint.
Delio, 66, was diagnosed with breast cancer a year ago, she said in a phone interview. She can’t blame her diagnosis on eating grilled chicken, she said. “It’s a possibility,” she said, adding that cancer runs in her family.
“I happen to like grilled chicken,” Delio said. “I checked it out on the Internet, and I learned that this is true, that grilled stuff is really no good for you.”
Ellison’s boyfriend was diagnosed with colon cancer, Kinburn said. He has other medical issues and the couple turned to grilled-chicken salads for what they thought would be healthful meals, the lawyer said.
Ellison doesn’t have cancer, Kinburn said. She didn’t immediately return a call for comment.
“Outside of the scientific oncology community and upper management of national restaurant chains, few people are aware of the presence of PhIP in grilled, flame-grilled or barbequed chicken,” Delio and Ellison said in their complaint.
The fast-food companies and the poultry industry mislead consumers into thinking that grilled chicken is healthier than beef, they said.
Oak Brook, Illinois-based McDonald’s offerings include Premium Grilled Chicken Classic Sandwich and Premium Bacon Ranch Salad With Grilled Chicken. Miami-based Burger King, the largest U.S. hamburger seller after McDonald’s, sells Tendergrill Chicken Sandwich and Tendergrill Chicken Garden Salad.
Wilbraham, Massachusetts-based Friendly’s is owned by the private-equity firm Sun Capital Partners Inc. in Boca Raton, Florida. The restaurant chain sells Grilled Chicken Deluxe Sandwich, BBQ Chicken Platter and Cheddar Jack Chicken with Grilled Chicken.
Rick Maynard, a spokesman for KFC, said when the California suit was filed against it that its grilled chicken meets all regulations for food safety. California’s attorney general determined in 2006 that the state’s Proposition 65 doesn’t require a warning for PhIP in chicken, Maynard said.
Yum Brands! is based in Louisville, Kentucky.
McDonald’s fell 59 cents to $58.33 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading at 4:15 p.m. Burger King rose 17 cents to $18.18.
The case is Delio v. McDonald’s Corp., Connecticut Superior Court (Hartford).