A potential problem is percolating for the coffee industry. Soon, your morning cup of joe could arrive with a cigarette-like warning about cancerous effects. This week, California courts finally began hearing arguments in a seven-year-old lawsuit over warnings on java.
The grind began back in 2010 when an obscure public interest group, the Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT) filed suit against 70 companies including Starbucks and Whole Foods. The complaint alleges that under the latest version of California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 a.k.a. Proposition 65, all coffee products must be labeled as carcinogenic.
At issue is a chemical compound called acrylamide. Acrylamide is often created in low levels when items such as starchy vegetables, bread, cereal are roasted or charred. CERT contends that coffee beans contain potentially dangerous levels of the substance and roasters must comply with Prop 65 which mandates warnings on ingestible linked to increased risk of cancer.
#SpoilerAlert The coffee companies think that CERT’s assertions are nonsense.
Lawyers for Starbucks initially argued that Cert’s arguments are bunk and that coffee poses zero risk to drinkers. That reasoning earned them a stay during phase one of the case in 2015. However, the court eventually rejected it and arguments began again on Tuesday (9.05).
Now, defense attorneys are shifting tactics and touting recent studies that posit coffee is actually good-for-you. Additionally, they are now acknowledging that roasted beans do include acrylamide, but the amount consumed over a lifetime is not enough to cause any ill effects.
Cert’s counsel Raphael Metzger doubts these studies which he describes as “just a bunch of hypotheses.”
If the court sides with the plaintiffs, one can expect warnings to pop up around 2018. Although the dispute is specific to the California, the ramifications will likely be far larger. Given the massive size of the Golden State, it is unlikely that roaster will produce separate packaging for the area. Instead, one can expect the labeled bags to be distributed nationally. Environmentalists employed similar tactics to reduce national vehicle emissions by pushing legislation in Cali.