Judge: Coffee Requires Cancer Warning California Ruling against Starbucks, Others Comes amid Studies Showing Health Benefits

By Melley, Brian | The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), March 31, 2018 | Go to article overview

Judge: Coffee Requires Cancer Warning California Ruling against Starbucks, Others Comes amid Studies Showing Health Benefits


Melley, Brian, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)


LOS ANGELES - Coffee sellers will have to post ominous warnings in California because each cup contains a chemical linked to cancer, a judge ruled.

The culprit is a byproduct of the bean roasting process that is a known carcinogen and has been at the heart of an eight-year legal struggle between a tiny nonprofit group and Big Coffee.

The Council for Education and Research on Toxics wanted the coffee industry to remove acrylamide from its processing - like potato chip makers did when it sued them years ago - or disclose the possible risk in signs or labels. The industry, led by Starbucks Corp., said the level of the chemical in coffee isn't harmful and any risks are outweighed by benefits.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle said Wednesday that the coffee makers hadn't presented the proper grounds at trial to prevail.

"While plaintiff offered evidence that consumption of coffee increases the risk of harm to the fetus, to infants, to children and to adults, defendants' medical and epidemiology experts testified that they had no opinion on causation," Berle wrote in his proposed ruling. "Defendants failed to satisfy their burden of proving ... that consumption of coffee confers a benefit to human health."

The suit was brought against Starbucks and 90 companies under a law passed by California voters in 1986 that has been credited with culling cancer-causing chemicals from myriad products and also criticized for leading to quick settlement shakedowns.

The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, better known as Proposition 65, requires warning labels for about 900 chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects. It allows private citizens, advocacy groups and attorneys to sue on behalf of the state and collect a portion of civil penalties for failure to provide warnings.

"This lawsuit has made a mockery of Prop. 65, has confused consumers, and does nothing to improve public health," said William Murray, president and CEO of the National Coffee Association, who added that coffee had been shown to be a healthy beverage.

Scientific evidence on coffee has gone back and forth for a long time, but concerns have eased recently about possible dangers of coffee, with some studies finding health benefits.

In 2016, the cancer agency of the World Health Organization moved coffee off its "possible carcinogen" list.

Studies indicate coffee is unlikely to cause breast, prostate or pancreatic cancer, and it seems to lower the risks for liver and uterine cancers, the agency said. …

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