Coffee in California could soon include a “spoonful” of warnings about cancer

“I’ll take the double espresso with human carcinogen.”

Okay, Starbucks will probably develop more subtle language if a California judge decides that coffee shops and other places offering hot caffeinated beverages have violated a state law that requires companies to provide “clear and reasonable warning” about chemicals that they cause cancer.

If approved this year, the ruling would end a protracted battle between a nonprofit organization in California and dozens of coffee retailers, including Starbucks and other major national chains. What is at stake is whether coffee in California should come with a cancer warning because, when the drink is made with hot water , it naturally produces a chemical known as acrylamide.

If coffee retailers lose the case, they would face fines of millions of dollars. If they win, Californians may have to take a risk with a drink that may or may not cause long-term health problems.

The state of California lists acrylamide, a by-product of the cooking process known as the Maillard reaction, among chemicals that are known to cause cancer or toxicity to reproduction. Acrylamide has been on the list since January 1, 1990, although scientists did not discover the presence of the chemical in cooked foods until 2002, when the National Food Administration of Sweden reported on the subject. Acrylamide can also be found in potato chips, bread and other grain products.

Eight years after that Swedish report, the Toxic Education and Research Board filed a civil lawsuit against Starbucks, Peet’s Coffee, Seattle Coffee and other companies referencing violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Toxic Enforcement Act , also known as Proposition 65, passed by voters in 1986, which requires all companies with 10 or more employees in California to give clear warnings before exposing customers to any chemical that is on the state list of carcinogens known.

“The defendants concealed the Californians and the plaintiff that their ready-to-drink coffee contained a chemical known to the state to cause cancer,” the lawsuit alleges. This claim is for Starbucks, Peet’s and the rest to start posting warnings, warning consumers about the potential dangers of acrylamide, and paying fines of up to USD 2,500 per person for each exposure to the chemical at the defendants’ stores . Civil fines could be astronomical.

Several of the accused have complied with this situation, according to several published reports. Among them are BP West Coast Products, which operates service stations and convenience stores; Yum Yum Donuts; and 7-Eleven stores.

But Starbucks and other major networks remain blocked in the legal battle . Starbucks, as the main defendant, refused to comment, referring the reporters to the National Coffee Association. The group’s president and executive director, William “Bill” Murray, issued a statement:

“Coffee has been proven time and time again to be a healthy beverage,” says the US government’s Dietary Guidelines, which states that coffee can be part of a healthy lifestyle, which simply confuses consumers and has the potential to make fun of Proposition 65 , at a time when the public needs clear and accurate information about health. ”

Approved by voters to reduce industrial pollution of the state’s drinking water, Proposition 65 has been a success to protect Californians from potential toxins and a great help to lawyers, private citizens and others who can sue on behalf of the state. and claim part of the civil penalties. Some companies, according to numerous reports, say that Proposition 65, with its list of hundreds of suspected carcinogens , has provided ammunition for lawyers to shake companies through settlements.

In fact, according to USA Today , the law firm that represents them in the case of coffee also represented another organization in a similar complaint with potato chip manufacturers. Like hot coffee extracted from beans, French fries contain acrylamide. In 2008, the Metzger Law Group, according to USA Today , settled for the chip producers, who agreed to “pay USD 3 million and eliminate acrylamide from their products . ”

Metzger’s lawyers did not respond to calls from The Washington Post .

In the lawsuit against coffee shops, Metzger and CERT argue that even a serving of 340 milliliters of hot coffee ” contains approximately 10 times more acrylamide than the non-significant level of risk (” NSRL “) established by the Office of Health Risk Assessment. Environmental of California “.

To date, the defendants have argued in court that coffee should be included under the Proposition 65 exemption for chemicals that occur naturally during the cooking process. They have also advocated for the many health benefits of coffee, such as a lower risk of liver disease and type 2 diabetes, not to mention a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and prostate cancer (on the other hand, studies have linked coffee with an increased risk of heart attacks and hypertension).

The scientific evidence that relates acrylamide to cancer in humans is scarce. According to the American Cancer Society, studies have found that acrylamide increases the risk of cancer in rats and mice when the chemical is placed in drinking water and in animals with doses “between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the levels at which people could be exposed in food. ” Society still does not know how results in humans would translate, but suggests limiting the intake of acrylamide.

Regarding studies with people, the American Cancer Society notes: ” Most studies done so far have not found an increased risk of cancer in humans For some types of cancer, such as kidney, endometrial and ovarian cancer , the results have been mixed, but currently there is no direct relationship with the intake of acrylamide . ”

The Food and Drug Administration notes that acrylamide is a “problem for human health,” but fails to recommend that people stop eating foods that contain the chemical . The agency continues studying it.

Soon, both parties in the confrontation of California coffee will sit down for a private mediation, according to CNN. But if they can not reach an agreement, the decision will fall on the judge of the case . Magistrate Elihu M. Berle could be the person to decide if a cup of coffee in California should come with a warnings about cancer.