Judge Rules Coffee Requires Prop 65 Cancer Warning

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Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle recently ruled that coffee requires Prop 65 cancer warnings due to the likely presence of acrylamide. Judge Berle ruled that the coffee companies failed to satisfy their burden of proving that the consumption of coffee confers a benefit to human health. If the ruling stands, defendants face significant penalties.

At issue is acrylamide–a chemical produced in the bean roasting process that is a known carcinogen. Coffee companies have said it is not feasible to remove acrylamide from their product without ruining the flavor but The Council for Education and Research on Toxics believes otherwise.

The dispute between the Council and 90 coffee companies arises under California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, referred to as Prop 65, that requires the State to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity and for businesses with 10 or more employees to provide warnings when they knowingly or intentionally cause significant exposures to the more than 850 listed chemicals.

If the ruling stands, it could result in significant penalties for coffee companies likely to be determined in the next phase of the trial.

The ruling comes at a time when there is renewed focus on Prop 65 since new warning requirements take effect August 30, 2018. The new regulations amend the clear and reasonable warning provisions of Prop 65 requiring consumers receive more detailed information about the listed chemical at issue, information where State resources are located and a new warning symbol.

Prop 65 as a consumer protection law has merit when applied in a rational, scientifically supported manner. The ruling requiring Prop 65 cancer warnings does not appear consistent with scientific evidence on the health effects of coffee consumption. In 2016, the World Health Organization moved coffee off its “possible carcinogen” list. A review of the health effects of coffee in Today’s Dietitian published earlier this year concluded there is a strong suggestion of net health benefit from routine coffee consumption.


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