California coffee lovers can indulge their caffeine habit without worry now that the state has decided the beverage doesn’t need a cancer warning after all.
That conclusion by a state regulator comes eight years after dozens of coffee roasters and retailers, including Starbucks, Target, Nestle USA and Amazon.com’s Whole Foods Market, were accused in a lawsuit of violating a state law that requires warning labels on toxic substances. A Los Angeles judge’s ruling last year requiring the warnings could have resulted in millions of dollars in fines for the companies for failing to alert consumers sooner.
The judge determined the warnings were needed because coffee roasting produces trace amounts of acrylamide, a known carcinogen, although the retailers argued there’s no scientific evidence linking coffee consumption with an increased risk of cancer.
That’s when the state regulator in charge of the list of chemicals that require warnings swung into action and recommended an exemption for coffee. On Monday, the state’s Office of Administrative Law officially signed off on the exemption.
“Everybody feels a little healthier now,” said Chuck Jones of Jones Coffee Roasters in Pasadena, California. “This is a big relief.”
Jones said his company is the smallest defendant among the coffee sellers that haven’t settled with a Long Beach, California-based lawyer who brings lawsuits in the name of the Council for Education and Research to enforce compliance with California’s warning requirements. Jones said he has spent $170,000 on lawyer fees in the case.
Lawsuits aimed at enforcing Proposition 65 — California’s toxic warning law that was approved by voters in 1986 — have become a cottage industry for lawyers who target retailers and restaurants for failing to tell consumers about the dangers of everything from potato chips to vinyl products. These cases typically settle out of court with most of the money going to the lawyers.
The litigation against the coffee makers and retailers is still pending in Los Angeles, where it was put on hold while the state decided whether to approve or drop the warning requirement. Raphael Metzger, the lawyer suing the coffee companies, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the state’s decision.