Starbucks coffee must have cancer warning, California judge rules

FILE PHOTO – A woman holds a Frappuccino at a Starbucks store inside the Tom Bradley terminal at LAX airport in Los Angeles, California, United States, October 27, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Bad news for coffee lovers. The Council for Education and Research on Toxics, a non-profit group, sued Starbucks and some other 90 coffee retailers for violating California Proposition 65 (1986). The law requires businesses to warn consumers of cancer-causing chemicals, contained in their products.

A California Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle backs a nonprofit’s case against coffee companies like Starbucks, Peets, McDonald’s Corp and other chains. He says the companies are violating the state regulation. In his decision dated on Wednesday, he required them to have a cancer warning label on their products. Particularly, he says:

“Defendants failed to satisfy their burden of proving by a preponderance of evidence that consumption of coffee confers a benefit to human health.”

Court document show that Starbucks and other defendants failed to prove that there is no risk from a carcinogen produced in the coffee roasting process. They have the right to file objections to the decision until April 10. However, a few defendants settled the case before Wednesday’s decision, agreeing to carry a cancer warning label and pay millions in fines, according to published reports.

The acrylamide is one of the cancer-causing chemical found in Starbucks and other companies’ products. It is produced in the bean roasting process and has been the subject of the eight-year legal struggle between a tiny nonprofit group and coffee producing companies.

The decision is the result of a lawsuit (2008) by a California-based nonprofit called the Council for Education and Research on Toxics. It calls for fines as large as $2,500 per person for every exposure to the chemical.  The Council for Education and Research on Toxics is still in favor of acrylamide removal from roasting processing like potato chip makers did when it sued them years ago. Attorney Raphael Metzger, who brought the lawsuit to the court, believes that if the potato chips industry did it, so can the coffee industry. He objects the point of coffee makers that it is impossible to remove acrylamide from their product without ruining the flavor.

“I firmly believe if the potato chip industry can do it, so can the coffee industry,” Metzger said. “A warning won’t be that effective because it’s an addictive product.”

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