California health officials proposed a regulation change on Friday that would declare coffee does not present a significant cancer risk.
The proposal would counter a recent state court ruling that found coffee should carry warning labels because of a carcinogen found in every cup of brew.
The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment says that a review of more than 1,000 studies published this week by the World Health Organization found inadequate evidence that coffee causes cancer.
The agency implements a law passed by voters in 1986 that requires warnings of chemicals known to cause cancer and birth defects. One of those chemicals is acrylamide, which is found in many things and, as a byproduct of coffee roasting and brewing, is present in every cup.
If the regulation is adopted, it would be a huge win for the coffee industry which faces potentially massive civil penalties after losing an eight-year-old lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court over the issue and could have to post scary warnings on all coffee packaging sold in California.
Judge Elihu Berle said the companies failed to show that benefits from drinking coffee outweighed any risks. He ruled in an earlier phase of trial that companies hadn’t shown the threat from the chemical was insignificant.
The state’s action rejects that ruling.
“The proposed regulation would state that drinking coffee does not pose a significant cancer risk, despite the presence of chemicals created during the roasting and brewing process that are listed under Proposition 65 as known carcinogens,” the agency said in a statement.
“The proposed regulation is based on extensive scientific evidence that drinking coffee has not been shown to increase the risk of cancer and may reduce the risk of some types of cancer.”
Lawyer ‘shocked’ by proposal
Attorney Raphael Metzger, who won the court case on behalf of the Council for Education and Research on Toxics, said the agency had essentially nullified the decision.
“I’m shocked. I’m just shocked,” he said. “The whole thing stinks to high hell.”
The National Coffee Association had no comment on the proposed change. In the past, the organization has said coffee has health benefits and that the lawsuit made a mockery of the state law intended to protect people from toxic substances.
Scientific evidence on coffee has gone back and forth many years, but concerns have eased recently about possible dangers, with some studies finding health benefits.
The coffee association didn’t deny that acrylamide was found in coffee, but argued it was only found at low levels and was outweighed by other benefits such as antioxidants that reduce cancer risk.