Starbucks Corp and other coffee sellers must put a cancer warning on coffee sold in California, a Los Angeles judge has ruled, possibly exposing the companies to millions of dollars in fines.
A little-known not-for-profit group sued some 90 coffee retailers, including Starbucks, on grounds they were violating a California law requiring companies to warn consumers of chemicals in their products that could cause cancer. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle said in a decision dated Wednesday that Starbucks and other companies had failed to show there was no significant risk from a carcinogen produced in the coffee roasting process, court documents showed.
Starbucks and other defendants have until April 10 to file objections to the decision.
Starbucks declined to comment, referring reporters to a statement by the National Coffee Association (NCA) that said the industry was considering an appeal and further legal actions.
“Cancer warning labels on coffee would be misleading. The U.S. government’s own Dietary Guidelines state that coffee can be part of a healthy lifestyle,” the NCA statement said.
The California-based Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT) first sued Starbucks and other companies in 2010 alleging they failed to provide warnings to consumers that the coffee they sold contained high levels of acrylamide, a toxic and carcinogenic chemical, court documents showed.CERT argued that since acrylamide was classified as a carcinogen under California law, coffee sellers had to use warning labels to alert the millions of Californians drinking their products.
The ruling came despite eased concerns in recent years about the possible dangers of coffee, with some studies finding health benefits. In 2016, the International Agency for Research on Cancer – the cancer agency of the World Health Organization – moved coffee off its “possible carcinogen” list.
Studies have previously found that in large quantities, acrylamide can increase the risk of cancer in some animals. It’s among the chemicals California lists as “known to cause cancer.”
According to Reuters, some of the other defendants had already agreed to put warnings on their products and pay millions of dollars in fines before Wednesday’s decision. Other companies — including Starbucks, McDonald’s, and Dunkin’ Donuts — have until April 10 to file appeals.