California Lawsuit Could Label Coffee As Cancer-Causing

REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

David Krayden Ottawa Bureau Chief
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If a California lawsuit is successful, coffee drinkers there could be reading a warning about cancer-causing ingredients along with their morning caffeine jolt.

As the Associated Press reports, a non-profit group is seeking to force manufacturers, distributors and retailers of coffee to warn consumers about a carcinogenic chemical that can be found in their product.

That means a cancer-causing label would have to appear on everything from coffee cups in the corner cafe to bags of coffee beans in the grocery store.

The case started-up again on Monday, and it targets Starbucks and almost 100 other companies that sell coffee in any form. They are all being sued for allegedly not following a state statute that insists any product containing a potentially hazardous chemical must have a consumer warning on the label.

The case was first brought against “big coffee” by the Council for Education and Research on Toxics in 2010 and has barely been noticed in the intervening seven years. But a verdict could be coming soon and if the council wins its case, it could put the coffee industry in a similar situation that the tobacco business faced decades ago.

The plaintiffs say that the presence of known carcinogen acrylamide in coffee means the warning labels are necessary. Although the coffee industry doesn’t deny the chemical is a byproduct of the roasting process, it says the levels are too low to cause concern and that the health benefits of moderate coffee consumption are more significant that the possibility of developing cancer from the beverage.

Attorney Raphael Metzger, who is representing the non-profit in the case, says he has a personal stake in forcing the coffee industry to remove the chemical from its product.

“I’m addicted — like two-thirds of the population,” Metzger said, according to the AP. “I would like the industry to get acrylamide out of the coffee so my addiction doesn’t force me to ingest it.”

California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act was passed as a proposition by state voters in 1986 and means that citizens, lobby groups and lawyers can all take businesses to court and collect any monies rewarded. The legislation was divisive at the time and remains controversial today with warning signs about potentially dangerous substances blanketing California.

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