Calif. to require health warnings from coffee sellers

Starbucks and others must post warnings about the beverage’s potential health risks, a judge has ruled.

Starbucks and other coffee retailers in California will be required to post a warning about the beverage’s potential health risks after a judge ruled this week that the danger is not offset by an a.m. jolt’s benefits.

The justice, California Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle, had earlier ruled that the risk of ingesting a carcinogen in a cup of java is not insignificant. He has been presiding over an eight-year lawsuit brought by an advocacy group, the Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT), under a state law passed by referendum in 1986. The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act aims to cut Californians’ inadvertent exposure to cancer-causing agents by requiring warnings on products that may contain a carcinogen.

The nonprofit alleged in its lawsuit that the coffee roasting process created minute amounts of acrylamide, a known carcinogen. Starbucks and other defendants had argued that the health benefits of drinking coffee, as indicated by recent research, outweigh the slight risk. But Berle ruled the point wasn’t proven in court."Defendants failed to satisfy their burden,” he concluded.

The trial will now move into a third stage to consider whether Starbucks and the other defendants will be required to pay civil penalties for exposing the public to a health risk. The 1986 law calls for violators to compensate each person put in danger at the rate of $2,500 per exposure, which could run into the billions.

Few expect Berle to impose penalties that steep. In an earlier suit brought by CERT against potato chip manufacturers, the defendants agreed to pay $3 million.

A number of defendants in the original coffee lawsuit have already settled with the nonprofit group. 7-Eleven agreed to pay $900,000 to resolve the matter.

CERT has said what it really wants is a change in the way coffee is roasted, but defendants in the trial have maintained that’s not possible.

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