Breakfast in Silver Spring

Warning: Coffee in California May Cause Cancer

Roasting coffee beans brings out that wonderful flavor that gets us out of bed in the morning. It also produces trace amounts of a substance called acrylamide. If you give lab rats a thousand times more acrylamide than you can find in food or coffee, some of those rats will get cancer. And so, a California judge has just ruled that all coffee in the state must come with a cancer warning.

Acrylamide: Formed in Roasting, Toasting, and Frying

The culprit here is a chemical that forms naturally in many foods when you cook at a high temperature. Roasting, toasting, baking, and frying will do it. Did you have toast this morning? If it was brown, then you got a dose of acrylamide.

Acrylamide can clearly cause cancer in lab animals. Based on that animal data, the World Health Organization classifies acrylamide as a “probable human carcinogen.”  The American Cancer Society says:

While the evidence from human studies so far is somewhat reassuring, more studies are needed to determine if acrylamide raises cancer risk in people. The American Cancer Society supports the call by federal and international agencies for continued evaluation of how acrylamide is formed, its health risks, and how its presence in food can be reduced or removed.

California Prop 65

Perhaps you’ve noticed in California that everywhere you turn, you can find cancer warnings. Prop 65, passed by California voters in 1986, requires these warnings any time a suspected carcinogen might be present. Disneyland has such a warning.

So a little known nonprofit – CERT – has been suing people who sell coffee in California without a cancer warning. It seems to be a lucrative business for a nonprofit. About a dozen defendants in CERT’s lawsuit have settled and paid amounts that range into many hundreds of thousands of dollars each. Starbucks held out. That led to Wednesday’s ruling that coffee in California must indeed carry a cancer warning.

The next phase of the trial will put a dollar figure on a payday for CERT. Money talks and in California, it says that just about everything causes cancer.

Click here for more on this story from the AP and here for background from Bloomberg.

Breakfast in Silver Spring, photograph © Ted Kyle / flickr

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March 30, 2018