Coffee might soon have cancer warning labels

By CINDY JIANG | April 19, 2018



In California, a new regulation to add cancer warning labels to coffee might soon take place.

How many of us are guilty of beginning the day with a nice, hot cup of joe? 

For countless Americans, the day doesn’t start without some caffeine to remedy the pain that comes with waking up to go to work or school. However, the quest to obtain a drink of coffee continues to be riddled with scrutiny from various sources.

The newest health scare related to coffee? Cancer. 

Two weeks ago, California passed a regulation requiring coffee companies to introduce a cancer-warning label to containers with the good. This decision affects upwards of 90 coffee roasters, retailers and distributors. 

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Elihu M. Berle is responsible for the ruling in which he sided with a non-profit organization in a case against major coffee chains throughout the United States, such as Starbucks and Peets. 

The lawsuit was first filed in 2010 by the Council for Education and Research on Toxics and claimed that the business of coffee vendors violated the state regulation titled Proposition 65, which requires businesses employing 10 or more workers to disclose any carcinogens and toxic chemicals in their products. The carcinogen in question for this case is acrylamide. 

Acrylamide results from the natural production of coffee, when the beans are roasted. The chemical is a byproduct of the reaction between sugars and amino acids when starchy foods heat up. It is found in foods including French fries, potato chips, breakfast cereals and burnt toast. 

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is a branch of the World Health Organization, acrylamide is classified as a human neurotoxin and a group 2A probable carcinogen.

Despite this high ranking on the list of carcinogenic risks to humans, scientists disagree with the scare that the new labelling is causing. 

Many scientists believe that an academic name can make a substance sound scarier than it actually is. For example, something labelled oxidane has a negative connotation but simply means water.

Massive amounts of acrylamide fed to rodents is indeed carcinogenic. However, one must keep in mind that we are talking about massive amounts of the chemical, as even water and oxygen consumed in extreme excess are dangerous for the body.

According to the American Cancer Society, the lab rats and mice are exposed to levels of the chemical that can be 1,000 to 10,000 times the amount consumed by humans.

The exact connection between cancer and acrylamide still needs to be clarified, and this sentiment is shared by Timothy Rebbeck, a professor at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

“There are no well-done human studies that answer the question definitively. From a practical standpoint would we recommend people stop drinking coffee as a result of the judge’s decision? No. That’s not what the science shows us,” Rebbeck said, according to the Washington Post. “There are lots of studies that suggest coffee is protective for cancer. That evidence is at least as strong as the evidence against acrylamide.” 

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