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California Court to Grill McDonald’s about Cancer-Causing Chemical in Chicken

grilled chickenA California lawsuit against McDonald’s and five other chains is moving forward. The restaurants will go to trial for serving grilled chicken containing a cancer-causing compound.

Last week, the California Supreme Court rejected the fast-food chains’ petition for review. That decision means the case, in which PCRM is the plaintiff, could soon proceed to trial.

In independent laboratory tests commissioned by PCRM, 100 grilled chicken items from McDonald’s, Burger King, Chick-fil-A, Chili’s, Applebee’s, Outback Steakhouse, and TGI Friday’s were all found to contain PhIP, one of a group of carcinogens called heterocyclic amines (HCAs).

PCRM’s lawsuit was filed under California’s Proposition 65, which states that consumers must be warned about products that contain known carcinogens. If PCRM prevails, fast-food chains will be compelled to post warnings in their California restaurants alerting customers to the presence of PhIP in grilled chicken.

The court’s decision comes just as a study in the October issue of the journal Toxicology confirms that PhIP is a potent breast cancer culprit not only because of its ability to damage DNA, but also because it exhibits hormonal activity. The scientists conclude that PhIP could increase the likelihood that breast cancer cells already present will become metastatic, worsening existing disease.

PhIP and other HCAs are formed from the creatinine, amino acids, and sugar found in muscle tissue, and are produced by long cooking times and hot temperatures. As mutagens, HCAs can bind directly to DNA and cause mutations—the first step in cancer development. The National Institutes of Health has identified PhIP as carcinogenic, as have the state of California and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Burger King has settled the lawsuit and posted warning signs in its California restaurants. PCRM filed a separate lawsuit against KFC, which also sells grilled chicken that has tested positive for PhIP.

Learn more about the dangers of PhIP and fast food at


PCRM Online, November 2010

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