Image of coffee beans
Coffee Beans; image courtesy of pixel2013 via Pixabay,

If you plan on visiting a California Starbucks shop or other coffee roaster or retailer in the near future, you’ll likely notice something new with your order. According to a recent court ruling from a Los Angeles judge, coffee roasters and retailers “must serve up a cancer warning with coffee sold in California.” The judge, Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle, published the ruling earlier this week after determining that “other coffee sellers did not show that the risk from consuming acrylamide, a possible cancer-causing byproduct created during coffee roasting, was offset by benefits from drinking coffee.”

This wasn’t just some random ruling, though. Back in March Berle made a tentative decision about the issue after the Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT), “a nonprofit group, sued some 90 coffee retailers, including Starbucks, on grounds they were violating a California law requiring companies to warn consumers of chemicals in their products that could cause cancer.” The legal battle between CERT and the coffee retailers began eight years ago, and Berle’s latest ruling will actually “open a path for CERT to ask for a permanent injunction that would require coffee sellers to warn consumers about the cancer risk associated with acrylamide.” However, it’s important to note that many coffee retailers throughout California, including Starbucks, already “post signs with such warnings under the state’s Proposition 65 law requiring businesses to provide warnings about significant exposures to chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.”

Image of a warning sign
Warning sign; image courtesy of geralt via Pixabay,

However, CERT’s lawsuit and the judge’s ruling has received a considerable amount of push-back from professionals working in the coffee industry, including the president and chief executive of the National Coffee Association, William Murray. When commenting on the matter, he said, “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.”

Despite the push-back, an attorney for CERT, Raphael Metzger, said he “hopes the final ruling will lead to a settlement where coffee sellers reformulate their product to remove acrylamide, as potato chip sellers did after a similar lawsuit.” He added, saying, “just giving warnings to people who are really addicted to the product, like me, doesn’t do much.”

Though Starbucks has yet to respond to requests for comment, many defendants mentioned in CERT’s lawsuit have already decided to settle and agreed to “post warning signs and pay millions in fines.”


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