California is officially taking a “Roseanne Roseannadanna” approach with a big “nevermind” about those cancer warnings that were supposed to go on coffee.
Like burning toast, roasting coffee beans produces trace amounts of acrylamide, a chemical that’s always been present when some foods are heated, but it went undetected until 2002.
A year ago, a state court issued a ruling that requires a cancer warning on coffee under California’s Proposition 65. But the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) decided the acrylamide dose in coffee is too low to be a carcinogenic risk.
The office runs the Prop 65 regulatory process, and after the court ruling, it initiated the rule that will now take effect on Oct. 1, exempting coffee from warning labels. It means that Starbucks, Target, 7-Eleven, and other coffee retailers that were subject to the court order are off the hook.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration supports the new OEHHA rule. The FDA found the Prop 65 warning would do more to confuse consumers than to inform them. And because scientific studies show health benefits to drinking coffee, the notice the court wanted to impose might be misleading.
“Misleading labeling on food violates the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act,” according to FDA. “No state law can require food to bear a warning that violates federal law.”
Recent reports about the health benefits of drinking coffee include defense against Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes, liver disease, and liver cancer. Other claims state coffee also improves cognitive function and reduces the risk of depression. A study was reported this week that found the heart can handle 25 cups of coffee daily as effortlessly as it does one.
Hanging over coffee since 1991 was it being classified as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an offshoot of the World Health Organization (WHO). However during a June 2016 re-evaluation, an international working group of 23 IARC scientists agreed coffee should not be classified as carcinogenic.
“After reviewing more than 1,000 studies in humans and animals, the Working Group found that there was inadequate evidence for the carcincgenically of coffee drinking overall,” IARC reported onJune 15, 2016.
The world body found coffee had no effect, or results were inconclusive, on more than 20 cancers for which there were studies.
Litigation under Prop 65 was brought against almost 100 coffee retailers by the Council for Education and Research and Toxics, a nonprofit organization. After last year’s state court ruling, a handful of coffee retailers agreed to pay the stiff Prop 65 fines and post warning labels.
However, the National Coffee Association with Starbucks and others decided to fight. The litigation remained on hold so that the regulatory process could run its course.
California voters adopted Prop 65 in 1986 by a 2-to-1 margin. It is also known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act. Any employer of 10 or more employees with brands, manufacturing, or distribution in the state is subject to Prop 65 labeling and signage requirements.
Non-governmental organizations and attorneys are empowered to bring Prop 65 enforcement actions, which can trigger noncompliance fines of up to $2,500 per day. A 60-day notice against offending retailers, brands, or manufacturers initiates Prop 65 provisions.
Prop 65 actions have increasingly targeted food companies since amendments to the act in 2018. Any known risks of cancer or reproductive toxins requires Prop 65 product warning signs and labeling.
Under the new amendments, notices must include the yellow warning triangle symbol, specific fonts, and the OEHHA website for more information.
OEHHA maintains a list of about 900 chemicals knows to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm, which is updated at least annually.
Coffee beans and toast are not the only foods that can form acrylamide from higher cooking processes such as frying, roasting, and baking.
Plant-based foods, such as potato chips, and products from grains are more likely to accumulate acrylamide than dairy, meat or fish products. It is not necessary to avoid eating foods with acrylamide, according to FDA.
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