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Are we giving up that cup of Joe? California Judge Takes Stand

  • Coffee contains acrylamide, a substance that causes cancer.
  • California requires coffee companies to put warning labels on the item. 

Almost a hundred companies that produce coffee, including Starbucks have been filed a lawsuit against by the Council for Education and Research on Toxics, a nonprofit group. The charges were based on the grounds of violation of a state law that holds the companies accountable for the lack of warning about the presence of cancerous chemicals such as acrylamide, a substance that is likely present in coffees.

While the producers of coffee argue that the amount of harmful chemicals that are present is much negligible, authorities have claimed otherwise.

“Defendants failed to satisfy their burden of proving … that consumption of coffee confers a benefit to human health,” a Superior Court Judge has declared.

California state has recently declared coffee as a probable cause of cancer. According to Elihu Berle, a Superior Court Judge, various coffee companies including Starbucks have not been able to prove that the health benefits of consuming coffee are adequate to compensate for the risks that it brings. While this statement was made on Wednesday, Berle had already pointed out the dangers, which is not negligible, from the consumption of coffee due to the chemical from the roasting process in the previous stages of the trial. Hence, coffee companies are now required to warn consumers about it by placing a warning label about the possible risks of cancer on the item.

Those who are in favor of coffee believes that it should be excused from the ruling as it is derived from the roasting process that brings out the flavor in the coffee beans. They argue that it is a natural process and that coffee consumption has its health benefits.

Within the past few years, many have carried out the research to prove the health benefits that coffee has. As a matter of fact, coffee was eliminated from the “possible carcinogen” list by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the World Health Organization’s cancer agency, two years ago. As such, people have not been concerned over the matter until the arrival of the new verdict.

The nonprofit group is suing based on the terms of the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Environment Act, a bill that was approved in 1986. This Act allows people, ranging from individuals to advocacy groups as well as attorneys, to file a claim as a representative of the state. They will subsequently become the recipient of the civil penalties if they win the case. Attributable to this bill, cancerous compounds such as the mercury in nasal sprays, lead in hair dyes as well as arsenic in bottled water have been decreased significantly. While this bill has successfully served to lessen the harmful substances that may lead to cancer, it has also been abused by some who are attempting to make some quick bucks from settlements.

William Murray, the CEO and President of the National Coffee Association has come into the limelight to advocate for the health benefits of the consumption of coffee.

“Coffee has been shown, over and over again, to be a healthy beverage.”

He has openly declared that these charges “does nothing to improve public health” – and he may be right. This legal process has been going on for eight years and is still continuing. The next stage in the trial will be spent on resolving civil penalties. Apparently, they are now looking at $2,500 for each individual who was affected for each day over the past eight years. With California’s population estimated at about forty million, the total fine could reach an insanely high amount and will most likely be disregarded.

Raphael Metzger, the attorney who initiated these charges consume more than a cup of coffee every day. “Getting it out is better for public health than leaving it in and warning people,” Metzger suggests. His goal is to completely eliminate the harmful chemicals altogether.

Nonetheless, coffee producers have pointed out the unfeasibility in that.

According to Metzger, around twelve of the defendants have already ended the case by agreeing to the terms. Many companies are now putting warning labels on coffee that states the presence and danger of acrylamide. There are about fifty defendants left facing the charges, after certain dismissals (some coffee shops are linked to much larger firms).

7-Eleven is set to pay a fine of $900,000 whereas BP West Coast Products, the company that is in charge of the convenience stores at gas stations will be paying $675,000.

Nonetheless, legal proceedings and actions are often impractical in reality. Cigarette boxes have been labeled with ominous warnings for some time now. Has it really changed the demand for it?

“It’s like cigarettes. Like, damn, now I’ve got to see this? Dude, I’m enjoying my coffee,” Darlington Ibekwe, a lawyer in Los Angeles asserted.

Starbucks has posted these labels, too, but some consumers don’t even pay enough attention to notice them. Furthermore, caffeine is another addictive substance, which means that these warnings will not have a noticeable impact on its demand.

“I just don’t think it would stop me. I love the taste, I love the ritual, I love the high, the energy, and I think I’m addicted to it,” expressed by Jen Bitterman, a digital marketing technologist.

Featured image via flickr/ John Orford

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