A California Superior Court judge has ruled that coffee companies in the state must include a cancer warning label on their products, to warn consumers of the dangers of acrylamide, a carcinogen that occurs when coffee beans are roasted. An existing state regulation requires businesses with more than ten employees to warn consumers of the presence of toxic chemicals and carcinogens in their products, and the court ruled that the regulation applies to carcinogens in coffee. The ruling was detailed in a Washington Post article on Thursday.

According to Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle:

“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.”

The case was brought by non-profit group Council for Education and Research on Toxics against a range of larger coffee companies such as Peets and Starbucks, and was originally filed almost 8 years ago. The current ruling is tentative but is not likely to be overturned. The group is also asking the court to call for $2,500 fine on companies for each individual unknowingly exposed to the chemical since 2002, and the next step of the trial will see a decision on these civil penalties, which could call for vast settlements.

Berle added:

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

Starbucks is the case’s primary defendant, while other companies such as 7-Eleven have already reached settlements.

The non-profit has argued that the amount of acrylamide in a twelve-ounce cup of coffee is statistically significant enough for the warnings to be required. However, many scientists have questioned the link between acrylamide and cancer. The American Cancer Society notes that studies linking the substance to cancer have subjected rats and mice to doses 1,000 to 10,000 times the amounts humans are exposed to from foods such as coffee, and that studies in humans have yielded either mixed results or shown no clearly increased cancer risk linked to the substance. They do, however, recommend limiting consumption of acrylamide.

Furthermore, of the many studies investigating the health effects of coffee, some have shown positive health effects, some negative, while others have shown no effects at all. One recent study even showed a decreased risk for breast, colon, and prostate cancer.

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