California judge rules coffee should come with cancer warning

CALIFORNIA — The cancer coffee lawsuit that’s been grinding on for years? It’s over, and coffee makers are steamed.

Bill Ristenpart, a chemical engineer, teaches the Science of Coffee at U. C. Davis. As an expert witness, he testified that acrylamide forms naturally as foods cooked at high temperatures turn brown.

“It’s the major reason you get this yummy brown stuff on the outside of your steak when you char it,” he explained.

In high doses, acrylamide has been found to cause cancer in mice. That puts it on a list of cancer causing chemicals that businesses in California are required to alert consumers about thanks to a law passed in 1986.

Due to the law you can already find warnings everywhere, from coffee shops and parking garages, to bars, and even Disneyland.

“They create in some people concern that there’s something lurking in places and they don’t know what it is,” said Marsha Cohen, a law professor at Hastings.

But the potential coffee warning may be stretching the intention of the law, said CBS contributor Dr. David Agus.

“I believe in transparency but at the same time when you put a bold declaration, x may cause cancer when there isn’t data to that affect in humans, to me it causes panic rather than informed knowledge.”

In a statement the National Coffee Association told CBS News, “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.”

Thirteen defendants, including Gloria Jean’s and 7-eleven have settled and agreed to put up the signs.  The judge ruled Starbucks failed to show the cancer risk from acrylamide was insignificant.

Starbucks had been arguing that coffee has health benefits.

“Coffee in moderation has been shown to potentially decrease the risk of certain cancers and potentially to have some heart benefit,” added Dr. Agus.