A Los Angeles judge has ruled that Starbucks and other coffee retailers in California must put cancer warnings on coffee beverages sold in the state. A non-profit recently sued over 90 coffee sellers on the grounds that they were violating state law that claims companies need to alert consumers if their products can cause cancer.
In the case of coffee, the culprit is acrylamide, a chemical byproduct from the roasting process. On Wednesday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle ruled that coffee companies hadn’t presented proper grounds to show that there’s no significant risk from the carcinogen.
According to the judge, “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.”
“Defendants failed to satisfy their burden of proving … that consumption of coffee confers a benefit to human health, ” he continued.
Scientific evidence regarding the health and safety of coffee has oscillated over the years. Many concerns have been eased given the beneficial impact of the drink. It’s even been linked to preventing heart disease and dementia. And in 2016, the World Health Organization moved coffee off its “possible carcinogen” list.
However, the Council for Education and Research on Toxics wants the coffee industry to remove acrylamide from its drink altogether, claiming that warnings aren’t good enough. They had previous success getting potato chip companies to remove it when they sued them years ago, but coffee companies claim its impossible to remove the chemical without compromising the taste.
The defendants have several weeks to challenge the ruling. If it stands, it could have major implications for the coffee industry, which will face stiff financial penalties. It may also influence policies far beyond the state in years to come.
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