Judge Ruling May Result in 'Cancer Risk' Warning for Coffee

The defendants include major retailers such as Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts
The defendants include major retailers such as Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts

A judge in California has ruled against several large coffee makers and sellers for not warning customers about potential acrylamide in their products. The judge, Elihu M. Berle, concluded that the defendants have ‘"failed to meet their burden of proof on their Alternative Risk Level affirmative defense." 

The ruling could mean that coffee sold in California will have to include "cancer warning" labels.

The nonprofit Council for Education and Research on Toxics filed the lawsuit in 2010 citing the Californian Proposition 65 law (initially known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986). This law lists chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity and deemed that, “No person in the course of doing business shall  knowingly and intentionally expose any individual to a chemical known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity without first giving clear and reasonable warning to such individual.” 

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Thirteen of the defendants had settled before yesterday's decision and agreed to include a warning; some of the defendants who did not settle include major retailers such as Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts. The National Coffee Association – who represent Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts – said in a statement that they are, "considering all of its options, including potential appeals and further legal actions." The Companies have until April 10 to file any appeal.

Acrylamide is formed when coffee beans are roasted and remains in the coffee when consumed. It is also found in potatoes, crackers, bread, cookies, canned black kolives, prune juice, among others.  The American Cancer Society stated, “Based on the studies done so far, it's not yet clear if acrylamide affects cancer risk in people.” Additionally, a recent meta-analysis found that for a range of health outcomes, coffee consumption was more often associated with benefit than harm across exposures.

“It's not a final decision yet, but I do think this is big news, and I'm much relieved after eight years of work on this,” attorney Raphael Metzger told CNN. While William Murray, chief executive of the Coffee Association, said in a statement, "Coffee has been shown, over and over again, to be a healthy beverage."

If the companies do not appeal or decide to settle, the judge will decide upon what penalties should be ennacted.

For more information, read the Statement of Decision here.