LOS ANGELES -- California coffee retailers are fighting a state law requiring them to post signs warning of potential cancer risks associated with coffee. But after about eight years in court, some companies are dropping out of the battle, including convenience-store retailer 7-Eleven, which in December agreed to settle and pay $900,000 in fines and post the proper signage in stores.
The Council for Education and Research Toxins brought the case against about 90 companies including Starbucks Corp., Seattle; Walmart Stores Inc., Bentonville, Ark.; and Costco Wholesale Corp., Issaquah, Wash. The nonprofit group seeks to enforce California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. The law bars companies from selling products containing any of the more than 800 chemicals linked to cancer without warning consumers, including acrylamide, a byproduct of the coffee roasting process.
In posting signage, Irving, Texas-based 7-Eleven follows retailer BP West Coast Products LLC, La Palma, Calif., and Yum Yum Donut Shops Inc., City of Industry, Calif. The companies agreed to pay $250,000 to $675,000 each, according to The Mercury News. Other businesses involved in the case could end up paying $2,500 for each cup sold without the required notice, according to Bloomberg.
Acrylamide is produced in the frying, baking and roasting of many plant-based products. After losing a 2008 lawsuit related to the issue, potato-chip manufacturers were required to pay $3 million and create acrylamide-free products.
In the past year, the language of the warnings that companies must post in compliance with Proposition 65 has changed. Retailers must now include a list of the carcinogenic chemicals, their method of transmission and a link to a government website, according to law firm K&L Gates.
Proposition 65 is part of a growing trend of nutrition transparency, leaving enforcement and compliance issues in its wake. In November, the Food and Drug Administration again postponed federal rules on menu labeling, mandating retailers and restaurants to disclose caloric and nutrient information, according to Restaurant Business.
Some studies call into question the efficacy of consumer-facing food and drink warnings and labels. A 2017 study published in the journal Nutrients found that menu labeling away from home did not change the quantity or quality of a participant’s nutrition intake.