Late last month, a California Superior Court judge issues a ruling that is going to mess up your peaceful morning routine. Coffee companies, like Starbucks, will now have to tell customers that their coffee can potentially cause cancer. Enjoy.
The ruling came after the case was brought before the LA County Superior Court way back in 2010 by the Council for Education and Research on Toxics, a nonprofit group. CERT claimed that since the very process of roasting coffee beans creates the chemical acrylamide – which is suspected of being a carcinogenic – coffee-sellers in California are obligated to warned customers via a label on coffee cups. CERT has since reached settlements with multiple defendants such as 7-Eleven to put warnings on their cups, but Starbucks has chosen to fight this one in court.
California has long included acrylamide on its own list of chemicals it considers cause cancer or reproductive issues. California’s list was created as a direct result of the state’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, Proposition 65, back in 1986. Companies that sell products with these chemicals or ingredients in it are mandated to tell customers about the suspected health risks.
As reported by the Associated Press, Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle read from his decision, saying he simply didn’t agree with Starbucks’ argument that they would be exempt from the law because the amounts of acrylamide in coffee is considered insignificant.
While there is evidence, mostly from animal trials, that acrylamide can be carcinogenic in high doses, coffee has yet to be definitively linked. The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified acrylamide as a group 2A carcinogenic in 2002, but reversed the ruling in 2016, finding that coffee and other similar drinks were not cancer causing. Other research has gone on to find that coffee provides many, albeit minor, health benefits.
Beyond roasting coffee beans, acrylamide can be a byproduct of heating up certain amino acids – such as potatoes – making them a common trace chemical in certain fast foods. Most research has found that we simply don’t ingest enough acrylamide in our food to make it much of a concern. When it comes to more common sources of the cancer-causing chemical, smoking provides much higher doses.
This is not the first time food purveyors have been forced to fight over acrylamide in California. Ten years ago, the state’s attorney general reached a settlement with several potatoes chip and fast food companies – Lay’s and Wendy’s amongst them – over high levels of acrylamide. They agreed to pay fines and reduce the levels of the chemical in their products.
While Judge Berle has yet to make his ruling final, and could choose to reverse it, I doubt either outcome would halt my morning java jolt routine.