A California state agency is looking to spare coffee shops from having to post warnings about coffee posing a cancer risk — an assertion not supported by science. It's about time.
Call it a victory for science — or maybe just for common sense.
A California state agency is stepping in to try and save coffee shops from having to post ridiculous, unsupported warnings about how coffee can give customers cancer.
The proposed intervention by California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment is a welcome acknowledgment that, at least in this case, a well-meaning consumer protection law may have gone too far.
Hundreds of scientific studies have concluded coffee is fine to drink, or even beneficial.
Yet you’d be hard pressed to glean any of that from the gobbledygook disclaimers slapped on the walls of some Golden State coffee shops.
“Chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and reproductive toxicity, including acrylamide, are present in coffee …” explained a warning sign posted recently at a Starbucks in Woodland Hills, California.
That’s a lot of important-sounding words that add up to a whole lot of nonsense.
The World Health Organization has declared coffee to not be a cancer risk, despite the presence of acrylamide, a chemical that forms naturally when coffee beans are roasted. In a review of more than 1,000 studies, the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer even found that coffee can reduce the risk of some cancers.
Still, without a rule change, California cafes are headed toward displaying more of the misleading, coffee-bashing signs, not fewer. A Los Angeles judge ruled earlier this year that the elaborate warnings for coffee are required under Proposition 65, which California voters approved in 1986.
The state law is designed to warn customers about the presence of more than 900 identified carcinogens — or, alternatively, to pressure companies to remove the chemicals from their products entirely.
But when it comes to coffee, the well-meaning law is instead accosting customers with misinformation. The nagging warning placards could train customers to dismiss similar alerts in the future, even when they point out real dangers.
Though long overdue, California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment should be commended for working to update its rules to reflect the latest science.
The state’s proposed rule change would clarify that certain chemicals that are created naturally in the process of roasting coffee beans and brewing coffee “do not pose a significant risk of cancer.”
Such a declaration would theoretically negate the need for the overdramatic cancer-alert signs. The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment proposed the rule change in June, shortly after the WHO released its full findings about coffee being OK to drink.
“There has been a concern about overwarning,” said Sam Delson, the office’s deputy director for external and legislative affairs. ” … We want to focus on the real health risks.”
That’s a good guidance for all government agencies — at least, if they want to ensure their public health messages are taken seriously and not ignored.