Despite a global pandemic, the number of 60-day notices filed pursuant to Proposition 65 against food companies alleging exposure to acrylamide continues its exponential growth in 2020. From only three 60-day notices in 2015 to more than 200 notices in 2019, these lawsuits cost companies tens of millions of dollars every year in settlements and attorney’s fees.
With attention being pulled in a million different directions this year, you may have missed two very positive developments that CalChamber is leading on:
CalChamber Files First Amendment Lawsuit
October 7, 2019. CalChamber filed its lawsuit last year against the California Attorney General seeking to stop the AG and private enforcers from requiring businesses selling food products in California from having to provide a Prop 65 cancer warning because of the presence of acrylamide that is created from cooking or heat processing. The intent of the lawsuit is to protect businesses selling food into California from having to provide false and misleading Prop 65 cancer warnings to California consumers when the state agency has no credible scientific evidence to support the requirement. Notably, the Government bears the burden to show that a compelled disclosure (a Prop 65 warning for acrylamide in food products) is permissible under the First Amendment.
August 27, 2020. CalChamber won a major victory in August when Chief District Judge Mueller denied the Attorney General’s motion to dismiss the case and intervener Council for Education and Research on Toxics’ (CERT) motion for attorney’s fees. Accordingly, the case proceeds.
October 30, 2020. CalChamber filed its preliminary injunction requesting that the Court prohibit the Attorney General and all private enforcers from filing and prosecuting any new lawsuits to enforce the Prop 65 warning requirement for cancer as applied to acrylamide in food and beverage products.
OEHHA Proposes Helpful Rulemaking and the CalChamber Coalition
August 4, 2020. The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) proposed rulemaking to create a new regulatory framework that has the potential to provide meaningful guidance to food companies. Under the proposed framework, Prop 65 listed chemicals formed by cooking or heat processing foods would not represent an exposure if concentrations are reduced to the lowest level currently feasible. The regulation would also establish maximum concentration levels for acrylamide in certain foods deemed to be the lowest levels currently feasible based on negotiated settlement agreements.
October 21, 2020. The California Chamber of Commerce coalition of 35 business organizations submitted a letter supporting the proposed regulatory framework and providing suggested changes to improve it.
How These Efforts Help Companies and What Makes them Distinguishable
Both the proposed regulations and the CalChamber lawsuit pertain to acrylamide in food products and are positive developments under Prop 65 for the business community. Yet, it is important to understand the difference in relief offered and to remind folks that the two pathways are complementary.
Should OEHHA adopt their proposed rulemaking to add section 25505, it would setup a new regulatory framework providing that Prop 65 listed chemicals formed by cooking or heat processing foods would not represent an exposure if concentrations are reduced to the lowest level currently feasible. It would also setup safe harbor levels for acrylamide in a limited enumerated list of food products. The proposed thresholds for certain food groups listed would be based on negotiated settlement agreements. Accordingly, companies would still be required to comply with Prop 65 with respect to food and beverage products containing Prop 65 listed chemicals formed by cooking or heating, but could better defend against bounty hunters if they can show concentration levels of these chemicals are reduced to the lowest levels currently feasible for that product.
The CalChamber lawsuit on the other hand seeks to stop all future actions by the Attorney General and any private enforcers to enforce Prop 65 warnings with regard to acrylamide in food and beverage products. Should CalChamber’s lawsuit succeed, companies selling food or beverage products into California would no longer be required to provide a Prop 65 warning for the presence of acrylamide, and neither the Attorney General nor private enforcers could sue companies for not warning on this basis.