California Judge: Coffee Should Carry Cancer Warnings

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In a state known for warning labels on hundreds of products, now your morning cup of joe could come with a cancer alert.

People all across the globe usually kick start their day with a steaming cup of coffee, but it seems caffeine addicts will have new reading material as they down their brew.

As a Los Angeles judge recently ruled, coffee sold in California will now come with cancer warnings.

The proposition, which required coffee roasters and retailers to serve the drink with a warning of a life-threatening disease, was under discussion since the beginning of this year.

The Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT), a nonprofit group, filed a case against some 90 companies that manufacture or sell coffee, including coffee-giant Starbucks, claiming they were violating a California law by not warning consumers about the chemicals present in the product.

It insisted a cancer-causing chemical, acrylamide, is produced during the brewing process that offsets the benefits of the drink.

Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle, who undertook the case, said coffee-makers failed to show how the benefits of the drink outweighed the damage it reportedly rendered, hence he confirmed the tentative decision made in March on the matter.

Although the coffee industry didn’t dispute the presence of the chemical in the drink, it did argue the amount present in the drink is harmless. They insisted the hazardous substance is a natural by-product of cooking and for that reason they should be exempted from the law.

But apparently, the judge wasn’t convinced and brought the industry under a three-decade-old law of the state, which requires it to label the cancer-causing chemicals on the product.

CERT, which initially sued the companies back in 2010, will probably use the recent development to ensure permanent injunction that will require the sellers to print warnings about the cancer causing chemical.

CERT's attorney Raphael Metzger had a message for the coffee makers in which it clearly mentioned the 8-year legal battle hadn’t exhausted the group and there is also a possibility of them seeking civil penalties as high as $2,500 per person from the sellers.

“In all the years I’ve been practicing, I’ve never had a case that got to this point,” Metzger said. “They’ve lost all their defenses and we proved our case. The only issues left are the nature and form of the injunction and the amount of penalties to be assessed. It’s not a pretty place for them to be.”

For obvious reasons, California sellers aren’t too pleased by the ruling.

"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,” said William Murray, president and chief executive of the National Coffee Association.

Banner Image Credits: REUTERS/Jagadeesh

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