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Should coffee come with cancer warnings? California says no 

click to enlarge An espresso is served at The Commons Chelsea in New York, April 7, 2018. A Los Angeles judge ruled in the spring that coffee companies must provide cancer warnings to coffee drinkers. The ruling cast a shadow on a daily and often essential rite for more than 100 million Americans. But now, in August, the state has intervened with an agency proposing a rule declaring that not only does coffee pose no significant risk of cancer, it may actually have health benefits. - CAITLIN OCHS/THE NEW YORK TIMES
  • Caitlin Ochs/The New York Times
  • An espresso is served at The Commons Chelsea in New York, April 7, 2018. A Los Angeles judge ruled in the spring that coffee companies must provide cancer warnings to coffee drinkers. The ruling cast a shadow on a daily and often essential rite for more than 100 million Americans. But now, in August, the state has intervened with an agency proposing a rule declaring that not only does coffee pose no significant risk of cancer, it may actually have health benefits.
By Tiffany Hsu
New York Times News Service

In every cup of coffee, there is a chemical linked to cancer.

That undisputed fact led a Los Angeles judge to rule this spring that coffee companies must provide cancer warnings to coffee drinkers.

But now, the state of California has intervened, telling coffee drinkers not to worry. An agency has proposed a rule declaring that not only does coffee pose no significant risk of cancer, it may actually have health benefits.

The measure will be the subject of a public hearing Thursday in Sacramento. If the proposal goes into effect, it is expected to nullify the court ruling about coffee warnings.

The basis of the coffee lawsuit is a California law that requires companies to warn consumers if they are exposed to hazardous substances in products.

In 2010, a small nonprofit group from Long Beach decided to take on California’s coffee sellers. In its case, the group noted that roasting coffee beans produces acrylamide, a chemical that has been linked to increased cancer risk when given to rodents in high concentrations. In 1991, the World Health Organization rated coffee as being “possibly carcinogenic.”

Coffee companies tried to convince Judge Elihu M. Berle in Los Angeles County Superior Court that trace amounts of the chemical in coffee were not dangerous to consumers.

In March, Berle ruled that coffee had to come with cancer warnings.

But in June, the World Health Organization concluded that there was “inadequate evidence” that drinking coffee caused cancer, reinforcing earlier findings by a panel of experts.

Faced with the outrage over Berle’s decision, and the new scientific research, California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment made an unequivocal statement on coffee. The proposed regulation states that exposure to chemicals on the office’s list of carcinogens “that are produced as part of and inherent in the processes of roasting coffee beans and brewing coffee pose no significant risk of cancer.”

“There’s a danger to overwarning — it’s important to warn about real health risks,” said Sam Delson, the office’s deputy director for external and legislative affairs.

The lawyer for the Council for Education and Research on Toxics, the group suing the coffee-makers, described the proposal as “unprecedented and bad” when it was announced this summer.

For now, coffee companies are in a holding pattern. The state’s proposal is expected be approved by the end of November.
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