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Could OEHHA Add Processed Meats to Proposition 65 List?

On February 12, 2018, California State Senator Ricardo Lara introduced a resolution (SCR-100) urging the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) to add processed meat to the state’s list of substances known to cause cancer under the Proposition 65 Labor Code listing mechanism. Processed meats include those such as bacon, ham, hot dogs, deli meats and more.  This resolution follows the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC) classification of processed meats as a Class 1 carcinogen in 2015, highlighting a meta-analysis concluding that consuming 50 grams of processed meat per day increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. The resolution is backed by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and Social Compassion in Legislation.

It is unclear whether this resolution will galvanize OEHHA into listing processed meats. As an initial matter, the lapse of time between IARC’s 2015 classification and the recent resolution suggests that OEHHA is disinclined to do so. Further, OEHHA did not list “nitrite in combination with amines or amides” following its 2014 Notice of Intent to List that substance via the authoritative bodies mechanism; nitrites are found in processed meats and the 2014 proposed listing triggered numerous objections by the meat industry. Similarly, the Cancer Identification Committee (CIC) did not recommend listing of “nitrite in combination with amines or amides” via the state’s qualified experts mechanism; the substance was proposed for discussion by the CIC at its November 2016 meeting.

If OEHHA does add processed meats to the list of Proposition 65 regulated substances, Proposition 65 enforcers could sue suppliers and retailers of processed meats unless they provide Proposition 65 cancer warnings. However, it is likely that federal law would be considered to preempt Proposition 65 for warnings on meat products.

In unrelated private enforcement developments: The vast majority of the products identified in Notices of Violation last week allegedly cause exposures to phthalates and lead. These targeted products represented a wide range of household items. Charcoal sold by multiple major retailers including Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Home Depot, Inc., and more, was targeted by the Ecological Rights Foundation for allegedly causing exposures to carbon monoxide. Another product, dietary supplements sold by several groups doing businesses as Smart For Life, was targeted for allegedly exposing users to cadmium. Four other food products, all containing clams, were targeted by the Chemical Toxin Working Group for allegedly exposing consumers to lead.

This blog article was researched and written by Brown University Class of 2018 student Aisha Keown-Lang. Ms. Keown-Lang is studying biology and political science at Brown University with the goal of going into bioethics and public health. Her special interest in genetics stems from her research in the Li Lab at UCSF and the Gerbi Lab at Brown. After having worked with children in the Providence school system for nearly three years, her commitment to improving scientific literacy and expanding health services in underserved communities remains strong. Ms. Keown-Lang is currently a writer for Brown’s Science Cartoon Program (SciToons), which aims to communicate scientific research and ideas to a diverse audience.

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Ms. Grimaldi maintains a diverse environmental law practice focusing on chemical and product regulation and litigation defense. Her practice areas include Proposition 65, California's Safer Consumer Products Regulations, California's Rigid Plastic Packaging Container Act and the federal Toxic Substances Control Act. Ms. Grimaldi graduated from the University of California Hastings College of the Law magna cum laude and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Bacteriology from University of California, Davis. Prior to attending law school, she worked as a research assistant in laboratories at the University of California, San Francisco Cancer Research Institute and at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine.