California Court Rules Coffee Needs Cancer Warning Label

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Despite a growing number of scientific studies in recent years finding that coffee either does not increase your risk of getting cancer or may possibly even lower it, a judge in California thinks coffee should have a scary cancer warning label anyway.


(I’m literally drinking a lovely cup of Cuban coffee as I write this and the caffeine is giving me plenty of energy to roll my eyes.)

According to the Washington Post, The Council for Education and Research on Toxics filed a lawsuit under California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, which the state’s voters approved as Proposition 65 in 1986, against Starbucks and about ninety other companies selling coffee in the state, including grocery stores and coffee shops.

This law requires warning labels if a product contains any among a long list of chemicals deemed to cause cancer, including acrylamide, which is produced in trace amounts during the process of roasting coffee beans.

California residents, advocacy groups, and attorneys have the right to sue on behalf of the state for violations of this law. If a suit is successful, the plaintiffs are entitled to collect a portion of the civil penalties, to the tune of up to $2,500 per person exposed each day to the alleged toxic substance — a potentially terrifying sum for companies operating in a state of almost 40 million people.

It’s not hard to see how a law like this creates major incentives for nuisance litigation. This is why local and state elections matter, y’all. 


From the beginning, Starbucks and the other defendants argued that the acrylamide resulted naturally during the roasting process and was at harmless levels. To no avail — Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle noted that the plaintiffs’ experts had testified that acrylamide presented a risk to humans who consumed it, the defendants’ experts had testified that they had “no opinion on causation.”

“Defendants failed to satisfy their burden of proving…that consumption of coffee confers a benefit to human health,” wrote Berle.

The defendants have until April 10 to file an appeal. Otherwise, they have the choice to either remove the acrylamide from their coffee or post warning labels. The defendants argued that it was not possible to remove the acrylamide or prevent it from occurring without making the coffee taste bad, so any of them that decide to stop fighting the case will have to adopt warning labels.

In this case, which has been “brewing” for eight years, as WaPo described it, nearly half of the original defendants have settled along the way and agreed to post warnings and pay penalties. 7-Eleven was one of the most recent to settle, agreeing to pay $900,000. Other defendants that settled include the entity that operates convenience stores at BP gas stations, BP West Coast Products, which agreed to pay $675,000, and Yum Yum Donuts Inc., which agreed to pay about $250,000.


Many of the defendants had previously posted warning labels, noting that acrylamide was found in coffee and was a carcinogen, but the lawsuit alleged that many of those warnings were not as prominently placed as they should be.

Californians are already bombarded with warning labels like these on a staggering array of food, drink, and consumer items. A similar regulation actually has parking garages posting signs that say, “This area contains chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer, birth defects and other reproductive harm.”

And, of course, since the only thing the liberals who have a stranglehold on the levers of power in Sacramento like better than government overregulation is more government overregulation, they’ve continued to add new requirements.

All those parking garage signs will have to come down and be replaced with new ones that warn specifically about exposure to carbon monoxide and other chemicals present in car exhaust. Because, you know, people driving their cars into parking garages have no way to figure out that there might be some car exhaust in there unless you tell them.

Let’s remember: there are a growing number of respected, peer-reviewed scientific studies finding coffee to be harmless or even beneficial. But California is going to still demand a creepy-sounding warning label if you want to sell java there.


Perhaps instead of warning about a fantastical cancer risk, they should warn Californians about voting for oppressive regulations and the legislators who love them.

Update: California resident Caleb Martin tweeted this photo, showing the absurd sign warning people about all the cancer everywhere. Seriously, did some sign manufacturer just have the best lobbyists in the history of the world when Proposition 65 was passed or what?

Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.


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