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California judge says coffee must come with cancer warning Dziggyfoto/iStock/Thinkstock

California judge says coffee must come with cancer warning

Coffee purveyors argue that benefits of drinking java outweigh risks

First french fries. Now java.

A California judge has ruled against coffee retailers such as Starbucks, saying the companies must add cancer warning labels on ready-to-drink joe sold in the state, according to a report on Friday from the Associated Press.

The nonprofit group Council for Education and Research on Toxics sued Starbucks and other coffee producers in 2010 for not complying with the state’s Proposition 65. The law, established in 1986, requires businesses to notify Californians about significant amounts of chemicals in the products they purchase, in their homes or workplaces, or that are released into the environment, according to the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, or OEHHA.

The law includes roughly 800 harmful chemicals, including acrylamide, which can be found in french fries, potato chips, crackers, bread, cookies, breakfast cereals, canned black olives, prune juice and coffee, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Long Beach, Calif.-based Metzger Law Group, which is representing the Council for Education, said companies with acrylamide in their foods need to “warn California consumers that this carcinogen is present in the foods that they sell.”

The coffee companies argued that the level of the chemical in coffee isn't harmful and any risks are outweighed by benefits.

A Los Angeles judge did not agree.

Representatives for Seattle-based Starbucks and JAB Holding Co., parent company of Peet’s Coffee, Panera Bread, Stumptown Coffee Roasters and Intelligentsia Coffee, declined to comment. Both companies referred to a statement released by the National Coffee Association.

The group said it is considering all options, including appealing the order.

“Cancer warning labels on coffee would be misleading. The U.S. government’s own dietary guidelines state that coffee can be part of a healthy lifestyle,” the association said in a statement. “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.”

William Murray, CEO of the association, said in a statement: “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.” 

It’s unclear how businesses would carry out the cancer warning labels.

Under the law, they must provide a "clear and reasonable" warning by labeling a consumer product, posting signs at the workplace, distributing notices at a rental housing complex or publishing notices in a newspaper, according to California state agency OEHHA.

Businesses have 12 months to comply with warning requirements, the agency said.

Contact Nancy Luna at [email protected] 

Follow her on Twitter: @FastFoodMaven

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