Should Coffee in California Come with a Cancer Warning?

An ongoing lawsuit in California argues that coffee purveyors should have to warn consumers of the presence of a potential cancer-causing chemical in their beverages, reports CNN.

The lawsuit was filed by the non-profit Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT) in 2010 on the basis of a law in California that requires manufacturers to list toxic chemicals in their products. Starbucks, 7-Eleven, and BP are among the remaining defendants in the suit.

The carcinogenic substance in coffee is acrylamide. Acrylamide is an unavoidable and natural by-product of roasting coffee beans. In fact, acrylamide is a common by-product of the process of heating a number of grains and plants to a high temperature, which results in browning. Other common foods that contain the substance include French fries, potato chips, some cereals, crackers, black olives and prune juice.

Acrylamide has been demonstrated to cause cancer in rats, though current studies are insufficient to definitively establish the cancer link in humans, according to the National Cancer Institute. Recent research into the potential health benefits of coffee suggests that the benefits of coffee consumption may outweigh the potential cancer risk of the small quantities of acrylamide it contains.

If successful, the lawsuit would require coffee-selling businesses to post warning signs in prominent locations, such as near cashier counters. Fines for failing to warn consumers of the cancer risk would be hefty – as much as $2500 per day for each violation, based on a 2012 settlement judgment with one of the defendants.

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