Shock: Coffee Causes Cancer... But Only in California


California is one step closer to requiring the state’s coffee sales to include a warning of the suspected carcinogenic properties of a chemical created during the bean-roasting process.

As CBS News reported, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle ruled that the coffee industry had not sufficiently argued that acrylamide poses an insignificant risk to consumers.

“While plaintiff offered evidence that consumption of coffee increases the risk of harm to the fetus, to infants, to children and to adults, defendants’ medical and epidemiology experts testified that they had no opinion on causation,” the judge wrote.

Furthermore, Berle concluded that the defense failed to adequately prove its related position “that consumption of coffee confers a benefit to human health.”

According to Reuters, coffee companies have less than two weeks to formally object to the ruling and will otherwise be compelled to prominently display warning labels or face potentially steep fines.

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A forthcoming phase of the trial will provide for possible civil penalties based on each person exposed, which could easily amount to devastating fines if fully imposed. The fine could be retroactively applied to the eight years between 2002 and the filing of a 2010 lawsuit.

This is the latest example of California setting itself apart under the broad authority granted in Proposition 65, an initiative passed into law by the state’s voters more than 30 years ago.

National Coffee Association President and CEO William Murray said Berle’s order and the lawsuit that preceded it have “made a mockery” of that law, arguing that coffee has been shown to possess health benefits.

Criticism of the mandate extends beyond the coffee industry to include customers and some in the medical community.

Dr. David Agus, director of the University of Southern California’s Westside Cancer Center, warned that the move could have an unintended consequence.

“When you put a bold declaration that ‘X may cause cancer’ when there isn’t data to that effect in humans, to me it causes panic rather than informed knowledge,” he said.

Did this judge's ruling go too far?

A number of coffee shops across the state have already obtained warning signs, though many are not displayed at points of sale as dictated by law.

Wherever the signs appear, many loyal coffee drinkers say they will not be deterred in their quest for caffeine.

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“I just don’t think it would stop me,” customer Jen Bitterman said. “I love the taste, I love the ritual, I love the high, the energy, and I think I’m addicted to it.”

Another Los Angeles coffee drinker compared his situation to that of smokers who have long ignored warning labels on packs and in advertising.

“It’s like cigarettes,” said Darlington Ibekwe. “Like damn, now I’ve got to see this?”

He said he will continue his three-latte-a-week habit despite the installation of the new signs.

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Chris Agee is an American journalist with more than 15 years of experience in a wide range of newsrooms.
Chris Agee is an American journalist with more than 15 years of experience in a variety of newsroom settings. After covering crime and other beats for newspapers and radio stations across the U.S., he served as managing editor at Western Journalism until 2017. He has also been a regular guest and guest host on several syndicated radio programs. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona, with his wife and son.
Texas Press Association, Best News Writing - 2012
Bachelor of Arts, Journalism - Averett University
Professional Memberships
Online News Association
Topics of Expertise
Politics, Entertainment