Should Starbucks Coffee and others come with a cancer warning? California judge says yes

California Coffee warning Starbucks

Think you’ve read enough about the health benefits of coffee to justify your caffeine addiction? Wednesday, a California judge determined that Starbucks and other coffee providers are required to add cancer-warning labels to your favorite cup o’ Joe. Furthermore, the judge ruled that the coffee companies failed to show that the chemical threat was insignificant.

The chemical in question is acrylamide, a carcinogen present in brewed coffee, resulting naturally from the cooking process. In 2010 the Council for Education and Research on Toxics file a law suit against Starbucks and about 90 other companies, accusing them of breaking a state law that requires warnings on a wide range of chemicals that can cause cancer.

The coffee companies said they should be exempt from labeling, since the levels are harmless and occur naturally.

In 2016, the cancer agency of the World Health Organization, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, removed coffee from its “possible carcinogen” list.

William Murray, president and CEO of the National Coffee Association, reacted to the decision by saying,

“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.” 

The judge did not believe that the coffee companies showed a significant reason for exemption. “While plaintiff offered evidence that consumption of coffee increases the risk of harm to the fetus, to infants, to children and to adults, defendants’ medical and epidemiology experts testified that they had no opinion on causation,” Berle wrote in his proposed ruling. “Defendants failed to satisfy their burden of proving … that consumption of coffee confers a benefit to human health.”

The failure to label coffee products in California comes with a steep price. It calls for fines as large as $2,500 per person for every exposure to the chemical since 2002 at the defendants’ shops in California. It is not likely that the previous fines would be enforced.


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