Breakfast Cereals Don't Need Cancer Warning

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. on July 25, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A California Court of Appeals overturned a lower court's finding that breakfast cereals containing acrylamide, a known carcinogen, must contain a cancer warning, in accordance with Prop. 65. In a huge win for the Big Three cereal manufacturers, the court decided that the benefits of a Prop. 65 warning were not outweighed by the costs.

Prop 65

Prop 65 was enacted into law by California voters in 1986. A right-to-know law, this law requires businesses to post warnings where there is exposure to chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive harm. Acrylamide was added to that "known" list in 1990. In 2002, researchers determined that this chemical is present in carbohydrate-rich food that is baked, roasted or fried. It is found in potato chips and French fries, both of which carry the warning. It's also in cereals, which now don't need to carry the warning.

Why No Warning?

In reversing the lower court's decision, this court found that although cereals do indeed contain acrylamide, the risk of putting the Prop 65 label on the box outweighed the benefits. Cereals, they determined, have healthy components, such as whole grain, that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is trying to promote. In letters written in 2003 and 2006 from the FDA to California health officials, and never retracted, the FDA voiced persuasive concern that deterring consumers from choosing cereal would force them into making less healthy choices, perhaps ones that contained more sugar. This swayed the unanimous appellate court decision.

Here is a list of foods known to contain a relatively high concentration of acrylamide. You decide if the risk outweighs the benefit:

  • French fries
  • Prune juice
  • Some cereals
  • Some breads
  • Toasted nuts and peanut butter
  • Canned black olives
  • Potato chips
  • Cookies and crackers
  • Coffee
  • Cocoa

Acrylamide in the News

If acrylamide sounds familiar to you, it should. Earlier this year, a state court ruled that cups of coffee needed to contain the Prop 65 warning, since the bean roasting process created the chemical. Major companies such as 7-Eleven and Starbucks went into an uproar, and lawmakers created regulations to override that decision.

Plaintiffs in this cereal case will ask for a rehearing, and if denied, will ask for review by the California Supreme Court.

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