For some time, health groups have warned that some of the chemical compounds produced in the roasting process of coffee could pose a risk of cancer in consumers. Retailers in the industry, including big names like Starbucks, have argued that the threat to the public is insignificant.
They claim that while harmful chemicals like acrylamide are present in their coffee, the levels are so low they are considered harmless. They also argue that these chemicals are a natural result of the cooking process, and necessary to maintain the flavour of the coffee beans. However, one not-for-profit group has recently sued coffee retailers and distributors in California.
Under state law, retailers are required to warn consumers if products contain cancer causing chemicals. As acrylamide, a carcinogen which is present in coffee, is considered one of the these chemicals, a judge in LA has now ruled that all coffee companies should be required to add warning labels to coffee sold to the public.
The judge noted that, as the companies have failed to provide enough evidence that the chemicals didn’t pose a high threat, the labels are required under California law. The companies failed to show that the risk would not exceed one case of cancer for every 100,000 people exposed. They also failed to show that the law should be less strict for coffee because of the other health benefits it offers.
Elihu Berle, superior court judge for the case said: “While plaintiff offered evidence that consumption of coffee increases the risk of harm to the fetus, to infants, to children and to adults, defendants’ medical and epidemiology experts testified that they had no opinion on causation. Defendants failed to satisfy their burden of proving by a preponderance of evidence that consumption of coffee confers a benefit to human health.”
This case has been ongoing for the last eight years. And although the judgement has been made, it’s still not over. The next phase of the trial will determine the level of compensation consumers must be paid by the coffee companies. For individuals who can prove they were exposed to the chemical each day over the eight year period, they could be entitled to as much as $2500.