I've written several articles over the past few years lauding the benefits of coffee. Tons of research studies have found plenty of reasons why you should be drinking more coffee and why coffee is really good for you.
However, a few days ago, a California court made an announcement that has stunned the coffee industry--giving huge companies like Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, and other members of the National Coffee Association a severe case of the jitters.
California Proposition 65--the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act--requires businesses that expose customers to a long list of chemicals to post warning labels notifying the public of the risk of exposure. One of these chemicals is acrylamide--classified as a Group 2A carcinogen ("probably carcinogenic to humans") by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
It just so happens that acrylamide is created when coffee beans are roasted. Thus, the decision to require coffee to bear a cancer warning label--the result of a lawsuit filed by the nonprofit Council for Education and Research on Toxics in 2010.
In his proposed decision, Los Angeles Superior Court judge Elihu Berle wrote,
"Since defendants failed to prove that coffee confers any human health benefits, defendants have failed to satisfy their burden of proving that sound considerations of public health support an alternate risk level for acrylamide in coffee."
If this proposed decision goes into effect, then any businesses that fail to provide the warning notice will be subject to a fine for each violation of up to $2,500 a day.
But (no surprise), the coffee industry is not taking this decision sitting down. According to a statement by William Murray, president and CEO of the National Coffee Association,
"Coffee has been shown, over and over again, to be a healthy beverage.This lawsuit has made a mockery of Prop 65, has confused consumers, and does nothing to improve public health."
It's going to be interesting to see what comes of this. The industry will fight extremely hard to avoid its products from being slapped with cancer warning labels. For my own part, I'll have another shot of espresso while the parties sort it out.