Coffee may soon contain a warning that it contains acrylamide, a known carcinogen.
A recent lawsuit filed by the nonprofit Council for Education and Research in Toxics alleges that coffee shops in California “failed to provide clear and reasonable warning” that their product could expose people to acrylamide.
The lawsuit first filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court in 2010 targets several companies that make or sell coffee, including Starbucks, 7-Eleven, and BP, reports CNN.
The state keeps a list of chemicals it considers possible causes of cancer. One of them is acrylamide, which is created when coffee beans are roasted. Acrylamide has been on the list since Jan. 1, 1990. Scientists discovered the presence of acrylamide in cooked foods in 2002 when the Swedish National Food Administration reported on it. Acrylamide also can be found in French fries, potato chips, bread, and other grain products.
The court documents state that the state’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 requires businesses to provide customers a “clear and reasonable warning” about the presence of agents that affect health. The act is also known as Proposition 65.
The lawsuit asks that companies post warnings about acrylamide and explain the potential health risks of drinking coffee. If the lawsuit is successful, companies would be required to clearly post signs at store counters or on walls when customers buy coffee. The lawsuit also requests fines as large as $2,500 per person for every exposure to the chemical since 2002 at the defendants’ shops.
The National Coffee Association maintains there is no evidence that coffee causes cancer. The association President and CEO William Murray told the TODAY Show: “Coffee has been shown, over and over again, to be a healthy beverage. The US government’s own dietary guidelines state that coffee can be part of a healthy lifestyle. This lawsuit simply confuses consumers, and has the potential to make a mockery of Prop 65 cancer warnings at a time when the public needs clear and accurate information about health.”
According to the American Cancer Society, animal studies show acrylamide increases the risk of cancer when the chemical is placed in drinking water at doses “1,000 to 10,000 times higher than the levels people might be exposed to in foods.” In human studies, the society states: “Most of the studies done so far have not found an increased risk of cancer in humans. For some types of cancer, such as kidney, endometrial, and ovarian cancer, the results have been mixed, but there are currently no cancer types for which there is clearly an increased risk related to acrylamide intake.”
The society also notes that it’s unclear if the levels of acrylamide in foods raise cancer risk and suggests adopting a healthy eating plan, consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to limit the intake of acrylamide.
The US Food and Drug Administration notes that acrylamide is a “human health concern,” but does not recommend stopping eating foods that are fried, roasted, or baked.