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Judges Rules California Coffee Shops Must Feature Cancer Warning

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A California law more than two decades old might change the way your to-go cup of coffee looks, especially if you live in the state.

In 1986, California passed Proposition 65 also known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act. The act requires clear labeling of all products that might contain chemical compounds thought to cause cancer or developmental defects.

On Wednesday, a California superior court judge issued a preliminary decision requiring coffee retailers to warn consumers that their coffee products contain acrylamide, a chemical byproduct that’s produced when coffee beans are roasted.

Acrylamide is one of the cancer-promoting chemicals on California’s 22-page toxin list. The compound has been found in industrial and tobacco products as well as other foods such as french fries, potato chips, crackers, bread, cookies, breakfast cereals, canned black olives and prune juice.

Acrylamides’ link to cancer is the result of studies conducted on rodents that linked the chemical to several different types of cancer. However, multiple studies on humans have not found a link between acrylamide in one’s diet and cancer.

“Toxicology studies have shown that humans and rodents not only absorb acrylamide at different rates, they metabolize it differently as well,” the National Cancer Institute states.

In 2016, the World Health Organization published a report that hot beverages, including coffee, are likely carcinogenic. Investigators believe hot drinks may cause cancer because they can burn the esophagus, which has been linked to esophageal cancer. Acrylamide was not mentioned as a risk factor.

Other organizations, like the National Toxicology Program, say acrylamide is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” The FDA, on the other hand, does not advise people to stop eating foods that are cooked at high temperatures, the process that releases acrylamides in foods. However, it does offer tips on how to avoid acrylamides in your diet.

“This lawsuit has made a mockery of Prop 65, has confused consumers, and does nothing to improve public health,” William Murray, president and chief executive of the National Coffee Association, said in a statement. “Coffee has been shown, over and over again, to be a healthy beverage.”

Following the initial lawsuit, which was filed in 2010, and other settlements, 7-Eleven and other companies said they will post the warnings, The Hill reports.

“We have a huge cancer epidemic in this country, and about a third of cancers are linked to diet,” Raphael Metzger, an attorney for the Council for Education and Research on Toxics, the plaintiff, told CNN. “To the extent that we can get carcinogens out of the food supply, logically, we can reduce the cancer burden in this country. That’s what this is all about.”

Though this requirement would be mandatory for California coffee shops, there is a chance the same signs or cups could be used in other states. According to the American Cancer Society, people around the country often see the labels used on California products if those same products are sold in other states.

Image via GettyImages/a_crotty.

Originally published: March 30, 2018
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