In California, Coffee May Come with a Cancer Warning

updated May 30, 2019
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(Image credit: Charity Burggraaf)

Coffee is a beverage we love to love and love to hate. Is it good? Is it bad? It’s a delicious to some, toxic to others mystery. But if this nonprofit group has its way, your next brew could come slapped with a dire warning — just like cigarettes.

The Case Against Coffee

The Council for Education and Research on Toxics has a simple goal: for those manufacturing, distributing, and retailing coffee to alert consumers about the carcinogenic chemical lurking in a cup of Joe. To this end, they filed a lawsuit back in 2010, reports the Associated Press, which holds roughly 90 companies — grocery stores, retail shops, small coffee shops, and even coffee giant Starbucks — accountable for failing to meet a California law called the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act that requires warning signs when consumers are exposed to hazardous chemicals.

“The intent is not to scare people,” Allan Hirsch, chief deputy of California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, says. “The intention is to help people make more informed decisions. If you continue to buy a product that will expose you to a chemical, that’s OK as long as you’re informed.”

Your Coffee Contains Acrylamide, but Should You Care?

So, what is this cancer-causing chemical? It’s acrylamide, a byproduct in the coffee-roasting process that’s also found in other cooked foods like french fries and burnt toast. There’s no dispute about its presence of acrylamide, reports CNBC, but the coffee industry maintains that it is present in harmless levels and the benefits of coffee outweigh the risks of the chemical. The World Health Organization says acrylamide is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

The lawyers defending the coffee industry went back to court in Los Angeles on Monday for their final defense against the lawsuit.

“It is hard to imagine a product that could satisfy this exemption if coffee does not,” James Schurz, an attorney for the defense, said in court papers, reports the AP. “The answer to the question of whether Proposition 65 requires coffee to carry a cancer warning must be an emphatic ‘No.'”

Thus far, two well-recognized chains in California have settled on the suit. Gas station franchise BP and donut chain Yum Yum have agreed to pay a fine — BP consented to pay $675,000 and Yum Yum agreed to a fine of $250,000 — and to post warnings from now on.

Will this deter you from drinking coffee? What do you think of these new health claims? Let us know in the comments!