Coffee must have cancer warnings, says judge
A Los Angeles judge has determined that coffee companies must carry an ominous cancer warning label because of a chemical produced in the roasting process.
Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle said Starbucks and other companies failed to show that benefits from drinking coffee outweighed any risks. He ruled in an earlier phase of a trial that companies hadn't shown the threat from the chemical was insignificant.
The Council for Education and Research on Toxics, a non-profit group, sued Starbucks and 90 other companies under a state law that requires warnings on a wide range of chemicals that can cause cancer. One is acrylamide, a carcinogen present in coffee.
"Defendants failed to satisfy their burden of proving ... that consumption of coffee confers a benefit to human health," the judge wrote in his proposed ruling.
The coffee industry had claimed the chemical was present at harmless levels and should be exempt from the law because it results naturally from the cooking process that makes beans taste better. It also argued coffee was good for the body.
The ruling came despite eased concerns in recent years about the possible dangers of coffee, with some studies finding health benefits. In 2016, the International Agency for Research on Cancer - the cancer agency of the World Health Organisation - moved coffee off its "possible carcinogen" list.
The lawsuit was brought under the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, passed by voters in 1986. It allows private citizens, advocacy groups and attorneys to sue on behalf of the state and collect a portion of civil penalties. The law has been credited with reducing chemicals that cause cancer and birth defects, such as lead in hair dyes, mercury in nasal sprays and arsenic in bottled water. But it's also been widely criticised for abuses by lawyers shaking down businesses for quick settlements.
The lawsuit has been brewing for eight years. A third phase will determine civil penalties of up to $2,500 (€2,027) per person exposed each day over eight years, an astronomical figure in a state of 40 million that appears unlikely to be imposed.