NAMA Assesses Impact Of California Coffee Cancer Warning Decision

Posted On: 4/5/2018

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LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Superior Court has ruled that coffee sellers in the state are subject to a law requiring cancer warnings on products containing "known carcinogens" because brewed coffee contains acrylamide. The case, CERT v. Starbucks Corporation, et al. (2010), was decided by Judge Elihu Berle.

California's Proposition 65 prohibits businesses from exposing consumers to cancer-causing substances without warning them. Acrylamide, produced by the application of heat to many foods, is formed in coffee during the roasting process. It is listed as a carcinogen under Prop. 65, on the basis of laboratory tests on rodents fed massive doses of the substance.

The case was filed eight years ago. According to the Washington Post (March 30, 2018), the third phase of the trial will determine the civil penalties for which the defendants will be liable.

Industry response was swift. "The immediate impact to the convenience services industry is still unknown," the National Automatic Merchandising Association commented. "NAMA has been monitoring this and other Proposition 65 issues since [the law's] adoption in 1986. NAMA members will be updated when further, specific details on how this impacts the industry are known."

The National Coffee Association of USA reported that "The industry is currently considering all of its options, including potential appeals and further legal actions.

"Cancer warning labels on coffee would be misleading," NCA said. "The U.S. Government's own Dietary Guidelines state that coffee can be part of a healthy lifestyle. The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that coffee does not cause cancer.  Study after study has provided evidence of the health benefits of drinking coffee, including longevity – coffee drinkers live longer."

NCA president and chief executive officer William (Bill) Murray emphasized that "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." NCA has posted an informative video on the acrylamide issue. 

The Specialty Coffee Association expressed its disappointment with the ruling.  "The preponderance of scientific evidence points to coffee consumption as part of a healthy lifestyle, and there is no evidence that coffee is carcinogenic," SCA pointed out. "In fact, the bulk of recent independent studies suggest that coffee may have some role in preventing certain cancers.

"For this reason, the American Institute for Cancer Research has recommended that coffee not carry a cancer warning, and the World Health Organization recently stated that there is no reason to consider coffee carcinogenic," SCA reported "This decision will have a negative effect on consumers who will be confused by cancer labels on a beverage that is known to be part of a healthy diet, and on small coffee businesses who will need to navigate the legal complexities of this decision. The SCA is committed to providing support and information on this topic to our members in the coming weeks."