A California judge has ruled that coffee makers must provide cancer warnings on coffee sold in the state.
Superior court judge Elihu Berle has finalised a decision made earlier in the year after non-profit group the Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT) sued around 90 coffee companies, including Starbucks and Keurig Green Mountain, under a state law that requires warnings on products where chemicals that cause cancer are present.
CERT claimed that acrylamide, a by-product of roasted coffee and the cooking process used in the production of a variety of foods, is among the list of chemicals in California that potentially causes cancer.
In the case, the coffee industry did not deny that acrylamide was found in coffee, but stressed that it does not pose a health risk to consumers. The defendants said the benefits of drinking coffee outweighed the risk.
The ruling means CERT may push for warning labels on coffee or a commitment by coffee companies to remove acrylamide from their products.
A similar lawsuit was settled by the same group in 2008 against the potato chip industry as CERT raised the issue of acrylamide found in potato chips. After six years of litigation, McDonald’s and Burger King agreed to provide cancer hazard warnings regarding acrylamide on their french fries and Frito Lay improved its production process to reduce the acrylamide content in its potato chips.
Attorney Raphael Metzger, who represents CERT, told Associated Press: “In all the years I’ve been practising, I’ve never had a case that got to this point. They’ve lost all their defences and we proved our case. The only issues left are the nature and form of the injunction and the amount of penalties to be assessed. It’s not a pretty place for them to be.”
Last month new legislation came into effect in the European Union (EU) restricting the amount of acrylamide permissible in packaged foods and forcing manufacturers to actively reduce the amount of acrylamide in their final products.
The EU has established ‘benchmark’ levels of acrylamide for various food products, ranging from 350 micrograms (μg) of acrylamide per kilogram for biscuits and cookies to 750μg per kilogram for potato crisps and 850μg per kilogram for instant soluble coffee.
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