Judge rules California coffee firms to place cancer warnings

CALIFORNIA, U.S. – In what is set to be a historic ruling, a judge in California ruled that coffee companies in the state would have to come with a cancer warning.

According to the Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle, coffee companies in California must carry the cancer warning label because of a chemical produced in the roasting process.

Judge Berle ruled that Starbucks and other companies had failed to show that benefits from drinking coffee outweighed any risks.

In an earlier phase of trial, he ruled that companies hadn’t shown the threat from the chemical was insignificant.

A non profit group called the Council for Education and Research on Toxics sued Starbucks and 90 other companies under a state law that requires warnings on a wide range of chemicals that can cause cancer.

The specific chemical in question is a carcinogen present in coffee, acrylamide.

Judge Berle wrote in his proposed ruling, “Defendants failed to satisfy their burden of proving … that consumption of coffee confers a benefit to human health.”

According to the coffee industry, the chemical was present at harmless levels and should be exempt from the law because it results naturally from the cooking process that makes beans flavourful.

Further, the industry has argued that coffee was good for the body.

Meanwhile, Attorney Raphael Metzger, who brought the lawsuit wants the industry to remove the chemical from its process.

Metzger has argued, “Getting it out is better for public health than leaving it in and warning people.”

However, coffee companies have said that’s not feasible.

The lawsuit was reportedly brought under the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, passed by voters in 1986, which allows private citizens, advocacy groups and attorneys to sue on behalf of the state and collect a portion of civil penalties.

Commenting on the decision, William Murray, president and CEO of the National Coffee Association, said, “Coffee has been shown, over and over again, to be a healthy beverage.”

He argued the lawsuit “does nothing to improve public health.”

Now, the defense will have a couple of weeks to file objections to the proposed ruling before the judge makes it final.

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