Starbucks and 89 other coffee retailers were sued by a not-for-profit group on the grounds they were violating a California law requiring companies to warn consumers of chemicals in their products that could potentially cause cancer.
The chemical in question in this case is acrylamide, a byproduct of roasting coffee beans present in high levels in brewed coffee.
LA Superior Court judge Elihu Berle said Starbucks and other companies had failed to show there was no significant risk from the carcinogen produced in the coffee roasting process, according to court documents.
Starbucks and the other defendants have until 10 April to file objections to the decision and fight the ruling.
Starbucks US declined to comment to American publications, instead referring reporters to a statement by the National Coffee Association (NCA).
Defendants failed to satisfy their burden of proving by a preponderance of evidence that consumption of coffee confers a benefit to human health
Elihu Berle, Superior Court Judge
The NCA statement read: “Cancer warning labels on coffee would be misleading. The U.S. government’s own Dietary Guidelines state that coffee can be part of a healthy lifestyle.”
Judge Berle said in his decision: “Defendants failed to satisfy their burden of proving by a preponderance of evidence that consumption of coffee confers a benefit to human health.”
The ruling comes some eight years after the original lawsuit was filed in 2010 by the Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT).
CERT’s lawsuit asks for fines up to as much as $2,500 (£1,783) per person for every exposure to the chemical since 2002 at coffee seller’s shops in California.
A third phase of the trial will decide if companies are liable for civil penalties, which could run in to millions of dollars in a state with a population of 40 million people.
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Starbucks and others lost the first phase of the trial and failed to show the level of acrylamide in coffee was under the amount which would pose a significant risk of cancer.
Then in the second phase of the trial, defendants failed to prove there was an acceptable “alternative” risk level for the carcinogen, according to court documents.
Some defendants in the case had already settled before Wednesday’s decision, agreeing to signage about the cancer-linked chemical and to pay millions in fines, according to reports.
Express.co.uk approached Starbucks for comment, and they provided a statement by the European Coffee Foundation, which read: “Californian ruling, 29 March 2018, on the suit filed 8 years ago by the Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT), targeting coffee companies, has the potential for coffee to carry an ominous ‘cancer warning ’ label in the state of California.
“CERT argues that coffee manufacturers were in violation of California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act (Proposition 65), which requires businesses to provide warnings to Californians about significant exposures to chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.
“CERT asserts that because coffee contains trace levels of acrylamide, a substance naturally produced during the roasting process, coffee manufacturers and retailers must warn consumers of an increased risk of cancer. This notion runs contrary to the scientific evidence.
“Coffee is one of the most heavily researched products in the world today, and the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence concludes that moderate coffee consumption of four to five cups per day (400mg caffeine), or two to three cups for pregnant women (200mg caffeine from all sources) can contribute to a healthy, balanced diet, and may even confer a range of health benefits.
“Furthermore, in a review of coffee and cancer published in June 2016, the World Health Organization’s International Agency on Cancer Research (IARC) classified coffee into Group 3 for agents ‘not classifiable as to carcinogenicity to humans’. After thoroughly reviewing over 1000 studies in humans and animals, IARC found there was inadequate evidence for the carcinogenicity of coffee drinking overall.
“In Europe, Regulation EU 2017/2158 of 20 November 2017 establishing mitigation measures and benchmark levels for the reduction of the presence of acrylamide in food, ensures food safety by laying down appropriate mitigation measures.
“The European coffee industry has been and remains firmly committed to investigate and test different approaches to reduce acrylamide in coffee, and welcomes further input from academia and research institutes. We will continue to contribute to international research on the formation, measurement and potential ways of reducing acrylamide levels in coffee, without compromising food safety and taste.”
Starbucks and other retailers have until 10 April to fight the ruling
There have long been concerns about acrylamide in food products in the UK and Europe. The chemical has been identified by the World Health Organisation as a cancer risk.
Companies which fail to show they are making efforts to reduce acrylamide in food could be fined.
Discussing concerns over the carcinogen in crisps last year, This Morning’s Dr Chris said: “Acrylamide is a known cancer causing agent. Last year it was found in overdone roast potatoes, crisps and burnt toast. This is not just the cheap own brand crisps but the posh crisps.
“It’s a result of the cooking process and the result of the high temperatures in the food during the process.
“However I would be more bothered by the salt content of crisps, not the cancer causing chemicals. High salt, high fat, that’s what I’m more concerned about.”