Coffee lovers in California could soon be faced with an ominous label plastered across their morning cup of Joe. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle has just ruled that most coffee retailers, including Starbucks, have failed to adhere to the state’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, which requires all businesses with more than 10 employees to warn customers about the possible presence of toxic chemicals in its products.
The Council for Education and Research on Toxics, a local nonprofit, filed a lawsuit seeking damages and hazardous label placement against 90 companies (Starbucks included) over use of an ingredient known as acrylamide. The chemical, which is a natural byproduct of the roasting process, appears on California’s list of chemicals known to to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity.
Though the defendants claimed the level of acrylamide found in brewed coffee isn’t harmful to consumers, Judge Berle concluded that the companies were unable to sufficiently prove its insignificance. At a later ruling Friday, he also ruled that they failed to provide proof that its potential benefits outweighed its potential harm.
Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s Corp, and other major players in the coffee biz have declined to comment, but the National Coffee Association did release a statement on their behalf, which read as follows: “Cancer warning labels on coffee would be misleading. The US government’s own Dietary Guidelines state that coffee can be part of a healthy lifestyle.”
The International Agency for Research on Cancer stated in 2016 that it “found no conclusive evidence for a carcinogenic effect of drinking coffee.” More recent studies have linked the drink to lowering the risk of certain cancers.
According to the Associated Press, some defendants have already settled with an agreement to include warnings, including 7-Eleven. Remaining companies such as Starbucks will have until April 10 to file any objections against the ruling.
The third phase of the trial will be geared at deciding on civil penalties, which could be as much as $2,500 per exposed customer.
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(Photo via Starbucks, Christopher Furlong + Alex Wong/Getty)