A superior court judge in Los Angeles has determined that coffee companies must carry a cancer warning label. Acrylamide, a carcinogen, is a byproduct of the coffee roasting process. The Council for Education and Research on Toxics sued a number of companies like Starbucks. The nonprofit organization said that coffee companies were violating a state law that requires warnings on products containing chemicals that cause cancer.
The defendants’ claim that drinking coffee is beneficial to human health did not satisfy the judge. They argued that the levels of acrylamide found in coffee were harmless and coffee is good for your health.
When coffee beans are roasted, acrylamide is a byproduct. It is not something added to coffee to make it tastier or addictive. When any grains or plants are cooked at a high temperature, acrylamide forms naturally. It is therefore found in fried, roasted and baked foods.
In high doses, acrylamide is toxic and could definitely cause cancer. However, there is no evidence that the low dose found in coffee is harmful. Lab rats and mice have been tested to find a link between acrylamide and cancer, and it does exist, but they were given a much higher dosage than humans would ingest. There isn’t sufficient evidence to suggest that it’s carcinogenic in humans. We absorb it at different levels and metabolize it differently than rodents.
In fact, some studies have indicated that coffee consumption is beneficial for preventing some forms of cancer. One study review found that drinking more coffee lowered the risk of liver cancer. A review of over 200 studies found that drinking three or four cups of coffee a day lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease.
In 2008, potato chip manufacturers opted to remove acrylamide from their products rather than leaving it in and posting a warning. The attorney who brought the current lawsuit believes that coffee manufacturers should do the same, but they have said that changing the coffee roasting process is not an option.
Caffeine is also present in coffee, and in high doses, it can be deadly. That has not stopped us from drinking coffee. We may avoid drinking it before going to bed for that reason or watch our consumption if we’re sensitive to caffeine, but we continue to enjoy it.
This particular lawsuit has been in the works for about eight years. It was first filed by CERT in 2010, and it is not over yet. The defense now has to file objections to the ruling before it is made final. The amount of money the coffee companies will have to pay has not been determined. Some of the defendants have already settled and posted warnings. Some of them will have to make these warnings more prominent, as they are mostly posted where people are unlikely to notice them.
Given the concern about acrylamide and this recent lawsuit, there’s sure to be more research done to bring more clarity to the situation. In the interim, most people who drink coffee say that a warning label would not deter them from enjoying it.