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California state agency rejects coffee cancer warning ruling

Unprecedented intervention by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) rejects court ruling that Californian coffee products must carry cancer warning
The move comes after the World Health Organization published of a review of more than 1,000 health studies concluding there was insufficient evidence that coffee causes cancer.

The state agency is responsible for implementing Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, or Proposition 65, a law passed in 1986 requiring warnings on products that contain chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects. The previous ruling centres on the presence of small amounts of the carcinogen, acrylamide, in coffee, which is produced in during the roasting process.

However, the OEHHA is now proposing legislation stating that coffee does not pose a significant cancer risk, despite the presence of acrylamide. “Despite the presence of chemicals created during the roasting and brewing process that are listed under Proposition 65 as known carcinogens,” the agency said in a statement.

“The proposed regulation is based on extensive scientific evidence that drinking coffee has not been shown to increase the risk of cancer and may reduce the risk of some types of cancer.”

The eight-year-old legal case was brought by little known non-profit, The Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT), which argued coffee companies were in breach of the state’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act for not warning consumers about the carcinogen.

In April 2018, Los Angeles County Superior Judge Elihu Berle ruled that 91 defendants, including Starbucks Dunkin’ Donuts and McCafé, had not sufficiently proved that the risk posed by acrylamide was nominal and therefore coffee products in California must carry a cancer warning.

The OEHHA’s rebuttal of the ruling will be welcome news for the coffee industry, which faced potential fines of up to $2,500 for every person exposed to acrylamide through drinking coffee in California since 2002.

The rejection of the ruling drew sharp criticism from attorney, Raphael Metzger, who won the court case on behalf of CERT. “The takeaway is that the state is proposing a rule contrary to its own scientific conclusion. That’s unprecedented and bad… The whole thing stinks to high hell,” he told reporters.

The National Coffee Association, which represented the group of coffee companies during the court case, has so far declined to comment.

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