Coffee Industry Fights California Cancer Warning

Ruling says that coffee is not exempt from Prop 65 and therefore must carry a cancer warning.

April 19, 2018

NEW YORK – The Wall Street Journal reports that the coffee industry is fighting the suggestion its products could cause cancer. The issues stems from a March 29 ruling by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle that coffee in the state of California must carry a cancer warning.

The Journal says that the judge’s ruling “has galvanized coffee brands and retailers, including Starbucks Corp., to push harder to avoid carrying the labels.” The companies say that trace amounts of a possible carcinogen acrylamide in their products does not justify a cancer warning to consumers in California.

Per Live Science, acrylamide is present in certain cooked foods, as well as cigarette smoke. The chemical forms when foods including coffee beans, French fries, potato chips, canned black olives, breakfast cereals and toast are heated to high temperatures, noted Marji McCullough, strategic director of nutritional epidemiology at the American Cancer Society.

Since 1986, cancer warnings have proliferated in California, writes the Journal, when voters approved the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, a measure known as Proposition 65.

On March 29 following the ruling, the National Coffee Association (NCA) stated that the industry is currently considering all options, including potential appeals and further legal actions. NCA maintains that cancer warning labels on coffee would be misleading, and that the U.S. government’s own Dietary Guidelines state that coffee can be part of a healthy lifestyle.

“Coffee has been shown, over and over again, to be a healthy beverage. This lawsuit has made a mockery of Prop 65, has confused consumers, and does nothing to improve public health” said William Murray, NCA president and CEO. More on the industry’s position can be found on NCA’s blog

Many California residents have become immune to Proposition 65 warnings, which show up on everything from parking garages to packaged foods. “They’re so ridiculous,” a Los Angeles resident told the Journal. “How many warnings can they put on stuff?”

Judge Berle is expected to finalize his decision in the coming weeks, and then, the coffee companies will go back to court over monetary penalties and the specifics of the warning labels, per the Journal.