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Carcinogen Found in Burger King, McDonald’s, and Friendly’s Meals

grilled chicken containing carcinogenBurger King tells its customers, “Have it your way.” For a Connecticut breast cancer survivor, having it her way would mean the fast-food chain would post warnings in all its restaurants about the carcinogen in its grilled chicken. Last month, she joined another Connecticut resident in filing a class-action lawsuit against the restaurant—as well as McDonald’s and Friendly’s—for failing to warn customers about the known carcinogen.

The lawsuit, sponsored by the nonprofit Cancer Project, an affiliate of PCRM, states McDonald’s, Burger King, and Friendly’s are clearly in violation of Connecticut’s consumer protection law.

“At all times relevant hereto, Defendants knew or should have known that their grilled chicken products contain PhIP, a known carcinogen,” says the Cancer Project in its legal complaint. “Despite that knowledge, Defendants have elected to conceal that material fact from consumers.”

Coverage of the lawsuit included nationwide television and print stories, including ones in Bloomberg News and The Hartford Courant.

Independent laboratory tests commissioned by PCRM show that grilled chicken from Burger King and other fast-food chains contains PhIP, a chemical that can increase a person’s risk of developing cancer, even if consumed in very small amounts.

“Consumers deserve to know that grilled chicken from McDonald’s and other fast-food chains can increase your risk of cancer,” says Neal D. Barnard, M.D., president of the Cancer Project. “Even a grilled-chicken salad increases the risk of developing some cancers, including breast and prostate cancer.” 

PhIP is one of a group of carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that are found in grilled meat. In 2005, the federal government officially added HCAs to its list of carcinogens, and PhIP has been on the California governor’s list of chemicals known to cause cancer for more than a decade. PhIP and other HCAs do not exist naturally in chicken; they form when animal muscle is cooked to high temperatures.

Other fast-food chains are also feeling the heat on PhIP. In September, PCRM filed a lawsuit in California against Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) for violating California’s Proposition 65. KFC failed to warn consumers that the chain’s new grilled chicken product contains this dangerous carcinogen.

To learn more about the dangers of PhIP, visit

Neal Barnard, M.D.

PCRM Online, November 2009

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