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California Judge Rules for Coffee Cancer Warnings

You might think twice before drinking coffee again.

Brooklyn Riepma

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A California judge has issued a ruling that requires coffee sellers across the state to warn customers that their coffee can potentially cause cancer. Los Angeles Superior Court judge Elihu Berle’s ruling will affect everyone from large chain stores like Starbucks to locally-owned coffee shops.

The ruling was based on a lawsuit filed by the Council for Education and Research on Toxics, which wants a number of California coffee retailers sued for breaking state law by not disclosing if their products have carcinogenic chemicals. The lawsuit said that the chemical compound acrylamide, a by-product of roasted coffee beans, may be linked to cancer.

The defense argued that acrylamide wouldn’t cause cancer for one or more cases for every 100,000 people, but Berle said that risk was not evaluated properly.

“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,” Berle wrote in the ruling. “Defendants failed to satisfy their burden of proving by a preponderance of evidence that consumption of coffee confers a benefit to human health.”

Not only will coffee companies likely be required to issue warning labels for customers, but CERT has also called for fines of up to $2,500 for those who have been exposed to the chemical since 2002. This could lead to settlements for those affected. Some companies, including 7-Eleven, have already settled.

Studies from the American Cancer Society have discovered an increased risk of cancer in rats and mice when they ingested acrylamide through their drinking water.

State regulation allows exemptions for some uncooked foods that naturally contain the chemical, such as potatoes. But CERT argues that coffee contains a more significant amount of acrylamide.

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Brooklyn Riepma is a Boise-based journalist and student. She is a junior at The College of Idaho majoring in Political Economy with minors in Creative writing, Natural Sciences, and Journalism.

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