Despite its long list of health benefits, coffee in California may soon come with a consumer warning.

By Jamie Ducharme
January 31, 2018 01:58 PM

Despite its long list of health benefits, coffee in California may soon come with a consumer warning about cancer.

A lawsuit first filed by the Council for Education and Research on Toxics in 2010 seeks to require coffee sellers, including Starbucks, BP, Gloria Jean’s and 7-Eleven, to warn customers about the ingestion of acrylamide, a possibly cancer-causing chemical that’s produced when coffee beans are roasted.

Under California’s Proposition 65, businesses are required to notify customers if their products contain any of 65 chemicals, including acrylamide, that are linked with cancer, birth defects or other reproductive issues. In failing to post carcinogen warnings, the lawsuit alleges, the coffee shops are in violation of this policy.

So far, 13 defendants, including 7-Eleven, have settled and agreed to post warnings, CNN reports. Nine additional defendants will take part in a private mediation on Feb. 8. If they cannot reach a settlement, a judge will likely come to a decision later this year, according to CNN.

The warning, as set forth by the lawsuit, reads, “Chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and reproductive toxicity, including acrylamide, are present in coffee, baked goods, and other food or beverages sold here. Acrylamide is not added to our products, but results from cooking, such as when coffee beans are roasted or baked goods are baked. As a result, acrylamide is present in our brewed coffee….”

Coffee retailers have fought against the suit, arguing that the levels of acrylamide present in the beverage are not harmful, and that the health benefits of java outweigh its risks, CNN reports. National Coffee Association CEO Bill Murray told CNN in a statement: “Coffee has been shown, over and over again, to be a healthy beverage. The US Government’s own Dietary Guidelines state that coffee can be part of a healthy lifestyle. This lawsuit simply confuses consumers, and has the potential to make a mockery of Prop 65 cancer warning at a time when the public needs clear and accurate information about health.”

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Research has shown that coffee contains cancer-fighting antioxidants and may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It may even help people live longer and age better, according to recent research. However, in 2016, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization, concluded that drinking very hot beverages may increase the risk of esophageal cancer. The IARC said that there isn’t enough evidence to classify coffee as a carcinogen, but the temperature at which it’s consumed matters.

Acrylamide, which forms when sugars and amino acids are cooked at temperatures above 150 degrees, is not limited to coffee. The chemical is also found in fried foods, such as french fries and potato chips, as well as baby food and baked goods.

In 2007, fast food restaurants in California began posting warnings about acrylamide.