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Makin’ Bacon Legal Fry-Up

It looks like California is going to be the first place to enter the hot-fry legal arena over the bacon warning brouhaha.

California is looking at placing health warnings on bacon and other meat products in the wake of the stir created by the World Health Organization’s warning in the past week about processed meats like bacon and ham, hot dogs, salami and sausages potentially causing colorectal cancer.

The battle lines are now being drawn with California’s Proposition 65 being used to stamp the health warnings on the processed meats.

Reuters report that California’s Proposition 65, an initiative approved in 1986, requires that the state keep a list of all chemicals and substances known to increase cancer risks. Producers of such products are required to provide “clear and reasonable” warnings for consumers.

Some Proposition 65 experts expect California to add processed meats to the list. Typically, once an item is added, it is up to the maker to prove to the state that its product is not dangerous enough to warrant a warning label, experts say.

As the WSJ Law Blog reported, the legal question is whether such warnings would interfere with USDA meat regulations. The meat industry, which disputes the findings of the cancer study, says courts have been clear that Proposition 65 conflicts with federal policy on meat labeling at stores.

California officials say it’s not clear how courts would approach warnings on processed meats. Legal precedent cited by the beef industry, including an 2009 state appellate ruling, dealt with fresh meats, not processed products.

The labeling issue isn’t limited to meat. There’s also ongoing Proposition 65 litigation over whether coffee sold by major retailers should be added to the list. Plaintiffs suing the companies say the beverage should also come with a warning because it contains a chemical byproduct of roasting that studies have linked to cancer.

There is a long way to go before the legal issues and the powerful food lobbies and interests are done with these issues, but it will create a lot of work for the lawyers there’s no question.

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