In the state of California, stores that sell coffee will now be required to warn customers that the piping hot beverage contains “chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and reproductive toxicity.” *rubs temples* Ok, where to begin with this —
The drama is thanks to a chemical called acrylamide, which is produced during the coffee roasting process — and a nonprofit called the Council for Education and Research on Toxics, which successfully sued industry leaders including Starbucks to mandate labels for coffee products.
The suit leaned on Proposition 65, a 1986 California law that mandates warning labels for hundreds of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive health problems. The law has attracted criticism, though, for encouraging warnings that are overly broad and divorced from context. One consumer, for instance, complained that she bought a clear plastic ruler, then noticed when she got home that it contained a tiny warning that it could cause cancer or birth defects.
Case in point is acrylamide, which researchers have found likely increases the risk of several types of cancer in rats and mice — but doesn’t definitely lead to cancer in humans. Isolating the long-term health effects of a single substance is notoriously tricky, and a single food can have both positive and negative health effects. Coffee drinking, for instance, is correlated with higher life expectancies. The Food and Drug Administration is gathering information but has not taken action to mandate labeling of foods that contain acrylamide.
And regardless, it’s not clear whether warning labels change consumers’ choices. Raphael Metzger, the attorney who represented the Council for Education and Research on Toxics, told CNN that he himself is a coffee drinker.
"I'm addicted to coffee, I confess, and I would like to be able to have mine without acrylamide," he said.