Coffee Companies Prepare to Battle California Cancer Warning Labels

A fleet of major coffee brands is gearing up for a long haul fight against California’s coffee warnings. The companies say that the trace amounts of acrylamide — a cancer-causing chemical — found in coffee do not warrant a label, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In late March, Los Angeles Superior Court judge Elihu Berle issued a tentative ruling that, if upheld, would require companies that make and sell coffee — like Starbucks and Peet’s Coffee — to include warning labels on packaged products, or post warning signs inside stores. That decision supported a 2010 suit filed by the Council for Education and Research on Toxics, which argued that coffee products should notify consumers that the known carcinogen acrylamide is produced during the coffee roasting process.

The proposed ruling falls under the state’s stringent proposition 65, which requires businesses to provide patrons with a “clear and reasonable warning” about materials or ingredients that may affect their health. Acrylamide is one of more than 900 chemicals that fall under proposition 65. Businesses that do not display the labels for regulated chemicals risk lawsuits.

In a new filing representing a group of coffee companies that includes Starbucks, Caribou Coffee, Folgers, Keurig Green Mountain, and Gold Peak Tea & Coffee parent company Coca-Cola, attorneys write that studies show “coffee consumption does not increase the risk of any chronic disease and is independently associated with a decreased risk of several major chronic diseases.”

It’s unclear how many of the companies named in the lawsuit will appeal Judge Berle’s anticipated ruling. The final decision is expected to be issued within the next few weeks. However, the National Coffee Association suggested in a recent newsletter to members that “this legal case is likely to have a long road to travel.”

Acrylamide is found in many fried and roasted foods such as potato chips, french fries, and toast. As of last month, the Food and Drug Administration was “still in the information gathering stage” on acrylamide, though it does suggest ways to limit the amount of the chemical that people consume. Many studies that have looked at cancer risk from consuming acrylamides in coffee remain inconclusive.

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