A recent court ruling dictated that coffee sold in California would require a warning label for cancer. Three months later, California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has drafted new regulations that counteract the ruling. Coffee may not require a warning label in California, after all.
The original ruling was made based on Proposition 65, which dictates that foods and beverages with known carcinogens be sold with a warning label. Coffee contains acrylamide, a known carcinogen found in many products that are fried, roasted, or baked before they are sold. Acrylamide is formed during the roasting process of most coffee.
The little-known nonprofit Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT) sued 90 coffee companies, including Starbucks, through the Metzger Law Group, which represented CERT in the first case related to acrylamide and Prop 65 in 2002. Due to settlements from that lawsuit, potato chips and French fries in California come with a warning label — and still will. This second lawsuit resulted in the recent ruling about coffee.
However, the OEHHA’s regulations may counteract this ruling. They drafted the regulations on the grounds that the chemicals in coffee “pose no significant risk of cancer,” according to a recent release from the OEHHA. “This regulation will therefore benefit the health and welfare of California residents by helping to avoid cancer warnings for chemicals in coffee that do not pose a significant cancer risk,” they said.
According to The Associated Press, the regulations are based on “a review of more than 1,000 studies published this week by the World Health Organization that found inadequate evidence that coffee causes cancer.”
The OEHHA is responsible for compiling the list of carcinogens included under Prop 65. The new regulations have been posted for review and comment from the public; the OEHHA asks that Californians reach out with their comments and concerns before August 30, at which point the regulations will be submitted to a state administration office. There will also be a public hearing on August 16 at which attendees can voice their vocal concerns.
Studies on the dangers of acrylamide are inconclusive. The World Health Organization removed acrylamide from its list of known carcinogens in 2016. However, the Food and Drug Administration is still conducting research and acknowledges that “acrylamide in food is a concern because it has been found to be carcinogenic in rodents and is therefore considered a potential carcinogen for humans.”
Following the ruling in March requiring the cancer warnings, coffee companies (including Starbucks, Caribou Coffee, Folgers, and Keurig Green Mountain) filed a new case insisting that studies show “coffee consumption does not increase the risk of any chronic disease and is independently associated with a decreased risk of several major chronic diseases,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
The Daily Meal has reached out to the National Coffee Association, Starbucks, Caribou Coffee, and Keurig for comment.
In a previous release responding to the CERT lawsuit, the National Coffee Association insisted that coffee does not increase the risk of cancer because “more than 500 published, high quality peer-reviewed human studies, covering several million people, concluded that no connection exists between coffee and cancer.”
Attorney Raphael Metzger, who represented CERT in the original court case, told The Associated Press that the drafted proposal contradicts OEHHA’s mission and that “the state is proposing a rule contrary to its own scientific conclusion.”
“That’s unprecedented and bad,” Metzger said. “The whole thing stinks to high hell.” The Daily Meal has reached out to Metzger's office for further comment.
Should the regulations pass, cancer warnings will no longer be displayed on the menus in California of these major coffee chains.