Viewpoint: California’s looming coffee cancer warning shows how judges and lawyers can subvert science

A judge in California is going to determine whether or not coffee causes cancer.

Think about that. We live in a society where judges and lawyers — not medical doctors, scientists, or even a group of really clever AP biology high school students — get to determine the credibility of biomedical research. The stakes are high: If coffee is deemed carcinogenic, then the State of California will be required to give up all pretense at common sense and sanity.

To give just a small flavor of the level of insanity California has reached, attorney Raphael Metzger and the non-profit Council for Education and Research on Toxics sued several coffee companies, alleging that their product causes cancer. For restitution, they want to slap a Proposition 65 label on coffee cups and, as you probably guessed, a giant bag full of money.

a ac d bIf you’ve been to California, you’ve almost certainly seen the Proposition 65 warning. The signs ominously warn, “This area contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm,” and they can be found just about everywhere, including airports and Disneyland.

According to Bloomberg, “the Council for Education and Research on Toxics needed only to allege that coffee contains trace amounts of one of almost 1,000 Proposition 65 chemicals to pursue its lawsuit.” Then, as is so often the case, unscrupulous lawyers use well-intentioned but overly broad laws to shake down innocent companies. Last year alone, Wall Street Journal reports that $25.6 million in cash and prizes were handed out in 681 settlements. Lawyers took home 75% of it.

7-Eleven has already surrendered and forked over $900,000. Starbucks has placed Proposition 65 signs in its store, but they might be required to place the warning directly on cups. If they don’t comply, “[f]ines can run up to $2,500 for each cup sold without a proper warning,” says Bloomberg.

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What Happens in Cali Doesn’t Stay in Cali

One may be tempted to conclude that Californians deserve the government that they get. That might be true, but the rest of the country doesn’t deserve it.

Because California is such a large state, what happens in California doesn’t stay in California. Manufacturers don’t want to print different food labels for different states. So, in order to comply with California law, a company like Starbucks might just decide to slap cancer warnings on every single cup of coffee sold in America. (This is one of the reasons why the GMO label debate in California drew national attention.) The notion that a handful of activists in California can dictate science and health policy for 320 million Americans is, quite frankly, obscene.

Yet, that’s where we find ourselves. Lawyers who are hellbent on destroying science to make a quick buck can find plenty of fertile ground and ample opportunity in California.

Alex Berezow is a microbiologist and senior fellow of biomedical science at the American Council on Science and Health. He holds a Ph.D. in microbiology. Follow him on Twitter @AlexBerezow

This article was originally published at the American Council on Science and Health’s website as “In California, Coffee Causes Cancer And Lawyers Collect The Fee” and has been republished here with permission.

9 thoughts on “Viewpoint: California’s looming coffee cancer warning shows how judges and lawyers can subvert science”

  1. I once ate Wheatena frequently for breakfast. Wheatena is (was) a toasted ground wheat cereal that came in small boxes. It was common in grocery stores. When I was a kid my mother made it for me. When I became an adult I continued making it. About 15 years ago California put the screws to the Wheatena company, forcing them to put Proposition 65 warnings on all of their packages because for some weird reason the California bureaucracy decided it might be a good idea to scare folks away from Wheatena. They actually brought civil action against the Wheatena company for refusing to do that. Now Wheatena is no longer available in grocery stores (you can still find it online if you know how). California is the very definition of regulatory and political overburden.

    • Yeah, I like that stuff and a few years ago stopped seeing it in stores. When I asked managers what happened nobody seemed to know. If Ca. is responsible that is pathetic.

      • since toast and french fries have acrylamide carcinogen then all french fries and toasted products should also be labeled and then on and one we go. The result is no-one believes any label and yet they believe the advertising for the fake health foods – it is truly amazing how dumb we have become – it was almost better when we didn’t have access to so called facts through the internet. We were ignorant but now we are misinformed and thing we know things that are not true.

          • how can anyone assess risk if everything is labeled with labels that indicate harm and then a whole mass is labeled with fake information that it is good for our health? Sugar and carbohydrates are part of our diet and the evidence is suggesting too much is bad but what do you replace it with ? If its nothing then you have a lower calorie diet which unless extreme is not bad but replacing it with protein requires our bodies to eliminate the extra (through our kidneys) and extra fat is not good either. But added to this basis is the fake information that HFCS sugar from corn is more harmful than “natural” sugar from cane. The sugar is the same (even HFCS is not really high fructose sucrose its the higher fructose fraction of the sucrose from digested corn and is treated the same as cane sugar by the human body. Then you have HFCS worse than can sugar in coke which is worse than sucrose (fructose enriched) in fruit juice. Fruit juice has more fructose in it than basic sucrose (cane or HFCS) but is no worse or better for you than sucrose from corn. Of course getting some added nutrients from fruit is better than coke but its not the sugar that’s the benefit.

            The sugar issue is just a tiny fraction of the daily minefield people have to navigate. It doesn’t help if the government over or under regulates this. It would be better if they stopped advertising of health claims not supported and reviewed by a neutral agency. The Who cancer group that classifies cancer hazard (not risk) is too political and doesn’t have enough groupings – e.g. coffee should not be considered a cancer agent – it is a small neigh risk to have a score of say 1-2 out of 10 where smoking is a 10. alcohol should be a 5. We should really start to worry when we are 5 and above – a 5 means don’t ingest when pregnant prone to cancer at the exposure site e.g. already prone to mouth, esophageal cancer or stomach ulcers. The real risk from alcohol is liver damage and death from DUI not any form of cancer. Maybe use a star rating. More stars the higher the.

            For pesticides glyphosate would be a 0 or 1 at most, atrazine would be a 3, some insecticides – 8, BT insecticide = zero since there is zero evidence of any harm let alone cancer from exposure to BT.

            Pot would have a score of 1-2 if it is smoked since the high temp increases cancer – any cancer promotion is reduced by pot’s ability to reduce cancer.

            Acrylamide in foods would be a 3 since it is something you should tend to avoid but no need to eliminate – we know a lot of grilled meats encourages colon cancer not a low dose is not going to what gets you.

            Unless you are fair about the labels they should be there except for extreme cases – e.g. smoking tobacco but available on a regulated web site. Having a separate cancer assessment site regulated by an arbitrary body might seem a nice option but it will confuse people and then when do you stop….as it is today it is arbitrary based on agencies, the internet grip or fake news of the day or false advertising.

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