Grilled chicken an unhealthy option?

Grilled chicken sandwichOrdering grilled chicken or cooking it home may not be as healthy as you think.

Last week, the Cancer Project, a Washington D.C.-based group, sponsored a class-action lawsuit in Connecticut against McDonald's, Burger King and Friendly's alleging that the restaurant chains failed to warn consumers about a dangerous carcinogen in grilled chicken.The group says that it conducted independent laboratory tests that showed grilling chicken at high temperatures produces PhIP, one of the group of carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCA), which even when consumed in small amounts increase the risk of getting cancer.

And consumers deserve to know that, Patrick Sullivan, spokesman for the Cancer Project, said in a phone interview.

PhIP has been on the California governor's list of cancer-causing chemicals for more than a decade, and the federal government added HCAs to its list of carcinogens in 2005. True, PhIP gets produced even when you grill at home, but for restaurant chains such KFC, promoting the dish as a healthy alternative is highly deceptive, Sullivan said.

Cancer Project, which promotes a healthful, plant-based diet and is an affiliate of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, began its crusade against the chains last year by suing a bunch of restaurants in California. Following the suit, Burger King settled and agreed to warn customers about the presence of PhIP. The rest, led by mighty McD's, held its ground. The case was eventually dismissed by a judge who said that federal law governing certain chicken products prohibit California from imposing its own PhIP standards. The group is appealing that ruling.

This fall, Cancer Project brought the same suit against KFC in California. Sullivan said thj group focused on California and Connecticut because both states have stringent consumer laws. The organization hopes to take its cause to other states eventually.

Burger King said the Connecticut lawsuit had no merit. McDonald's said in a written statement that the company adheres to some of the highest safety standards in the industry.

"There is no scientific evidence to suggest the small amount of PhIP that can be created as a by-product of cooking methods humans have employed for thousands of years, poses a health risk," said Cynthia Goody, director of nutrition at the chain.

In a similar statement, KFC, alleging the defendants have a pro-vegetarian agenda, cited a 2006 report from California State Attorney General Bill Lockyer, which said that "the reduction in hazard from microbiological contamination due to cooking is greater than the risk posed by the presence of PhIP."

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