California judge rules that coffee should come with a cancer warning

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Associated Press

Coffee sellers will have to post ominous warnings in California because each cup contains a chemical linked to cancer, a judge ruled.

A flat white.

The culprit is a byproduct of the bean roasting process that is a known carcinogen and has been at the heart of an eight-year legal struggle between a tiny nonprofit group and Big Coffee.

The Council for Education and Research on Toxics wanted the coffee industry to remove acrylamide from its processing — like potato chip makers did when it sued them years ago — or disclose the possible risk in signs or labels.

The industry, led by Starbucks Corp., said the level of the chemical in coffee isn't harmful and any risks are outweighed by benefits.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle said  that the coffee makers hadn't presented the proper grounds at trial to prevail.

"While plaintiff offered evidence that consumption of coffee increases the risk of harm to the foetus, to infants, to children and to adults, defendants' medical and epidemiology experts testified that they had no opinion on causation," Berle wrote in his proposed ruling.

"Defendants failed to satisfy their burden of proving ... that consumption of coffee confers a benefit to human health."

The suit was brought against Starbucks and 90 companies under a law passed by California voters in 1986 that has been credited with culling cancer-causing chemicals from myriad products and also criticised for leading to quick settlement shakedowns.

The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, better known as Proposition 65, requires warning labels for about 900 chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects.

It allows private citizens, advocacy groups and attorneys to sue on behalf of the state and collect a portion of civil penalties for failure to provide warnings.

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