While drinking a few cups of coffee is likely harmless, a lawsuit filed by the nonprofit Council for Education and Research on Toxics targeted several large California coffee sellers, alleging that a substance in coffee poses a cancer risk to drinkers. The suit alleges that the companies had “failed to provide clear and reasonable warning” that coffee could expose drinkers to acrylamide.
CNN reports the court documents state that after the California Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, colloquially known as Proposition 65, companies are required to give customers a warning about agents in beverages that may negatively affect health, and these California coffee sellers apparently failed to do so.
In addition to paying fines related to the lawsuit, companies may be required to post warnings about acrylamide with an explanation about the potential risks of drinking coffee. The suit hasn’t reached a conclusion, but if successful, California coffee shops and products would need to be clearly labeled so that customers are informed about acrylamide when making the decision to purchase.
Raphael Metzger, the attorney representing the Council for Education and Research on Toxics, said that the nonprofit really wants California coffee companies to reduce the amount of the chemical present to the point where it would no longer pose a notable cancer risk.
However, Business Insider reports that while acrylamide in large quantities could be dangerous, it’s present in all sorts of foods and is impossible to remove from California coffee. Acrylamide naturally forms when plants and grains are cooked at high temperatures. In a process known as the maillard reaction, high heat transforms sugars and amino acids in order to change flavors – usually browning the food. When coffee is heated, acrylamide forms, and there’s no way around that. The trace amounts present in coffee will likely not pose any significant health risks, despite what the Council for Education and Research on Toxics may suggest.
In a statement regarding the potential California coffee legislation, Bill Murray, the president of the National Coffee Association, released a statement saying “Coffee has been shown, over and over again, to be a healthy beverage. The US Government’s own Dietary Guidelines state that coffee can be part of a healthy lifestyle. This lawsuit simply confuses consumers, and has a potential to make a mockery of Prop 65 cancer warning at a time when the public needs clear and accurate information about health.”
California officially added acrylamide to the list of carcinogens back in January 1990, and the state has successfully taken companies to court over the inclusion of the substance. CNN reports that back in 2008, the California attorney general settled lawsuits against Heinz, Frito-Lay, Kettle Foods, and Lance Inc. where the companies agreed to reduce the levels of acrylamide found in potato chips and French fries.
“I’m addicted to coffee, I confess, and I would like to be able to have mine without acrylamide, stated Metzger. “We have a huge cancer epidemic in this country, and about a third of cancers are linked to diet…to the extent that we can get carcinogens out of the food supply, logically, we can reduce the cancer burden in this country. That’s what this is all about.”
While it might not be possible to remove acrylamide from California coffee due to how it is brewed, there may be a possibility to reduce levels that may be a suitable compromise for both sides of this lawsuit.