A lawsuit is underway in the state of California that might force coffee retailers such as Starbucks, Seattle’s Best and Dunkin’ Donuts to add a cancer warning label to their coffees.
The nonprofit organization Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT) has brought this suit to court. It’s an effort they began back in 2010 against 90 different companies in California, claiming these companies failed to follow a state law ― Proposition 65 ― that requires a warning for the presence of hazardous chemicals to the residents of California. The hazardous chemical in question is acrylamide, a known carcinogen, which is produced in small amounts during the coffee-roasting process.
This may come as a surprise to many who drink coffee regularly and relish in the fact that the caffeine-rich drink is so often touted for its health benefits.
Coffee is not the only food product we consume that contains acrylamide. Potato chips and French fries contain high levels. In fact, any food cooked over 248 degrees Fahrenheit can contain acrylamide.
The coffee industry has acknowledged the presence of this chemical, but claims that it is at harmless levels. Experts in the field think the suit has no grounds.
“Based on the animal studies, you would have to drink probably over 100 cups of coffee a day in order to get to that dangerous dose, so it is totally absurd,” Stanley Omaye, a professor of nutrition and toxicology at the University of Nevada, told Chemistry World.
If you’re wondering why this suit only requires California to slap on the toxic label, it’s because of Proposition 65, or the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act. The law, which was passed in 1986, requires businesses to inform Californians about significant levels of chemicals in the products they buy. The chemicals on the Proposition 65 list include “naturally occurring and synthetic chemicals that are known to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm.” That includes acrylamide.
Coffee companies are currently presenting their last defense in the suit. And two of the defendants ― Yum Yum Donuts Inc. and BP West Coast Products ― have already settled in the past month and agreed to post warnings.