Foodservice

FDA Voices Support to Exempt Coffee From Cancer-Warning Law

Agency aims to protect consumers from misleading information

SILVER SPRING, Md. -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has backed a proposal to exclude coffee from a California law requiring retailers to warn consumers about carcinogens within the beverage.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has issued a statement expressing concern over applying the state’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, also known as Proposition 65, to coffee. In March, a judge resolved an eight-year long lawsuit between coffee purveyors and an advocacy group invoking the toxics right-to-know regulation, ruling that operators must pay fines and post signage cautioning consumers about coffee consumption.

Under Proposition 65, retailers are required to put warnings on products that contain any of the more than 800 chemicals that have been linked to cancer. The Council for the Education and Research on Toxics (CERT), which brought the lawsuit against the 90 coffee retailers and companies, argues that a compound called acrylamide is dangerous to consumers. Acrylamide forms naturally during the coffee roasting process and appears in many foods that are cooked at high temperatures, such as french fries and potato chips.

Gottlieb said requiring a cancer warning on coffee, based on the presence of acrylamide, would be more likely to mislead consumers than to inform them. Although scientists have correlated high concentrations of acrylamide with cancer in animals, the commissioner cited research from the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer and other reports to dispel doubts over the safety of the drink.

“Strong and consistent evidence shows that in healthy adults, moderate coffee consumption is not associated with an increased risk of major chronic diseases, such as cancer or premature death, and some evidence suggests that coffee consumption may decrease the risk of certain cancers,” he said. “To this end, current dietary guidelines published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture state that moderate coffee consumption (three to five cups a day or up to 400 milligrams/day of caffeine) can be incorporated into healthy eating patterns.”

In June, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment proposed a new regulation clarifying that coffee retailers are not required to include the warnings. This week the FDA sent a letter to the governmental department throwing its weight behind the proposal.

Ahead of the judge’s decision this spring, several retailers, including 7-Eleven Inc., Irving, Texas, and BP West Coast Products LLC, La Palma, Calif., dropped out of the lawsuit and agreed to post signs and pay fines. 7-Eleven faced $900,000 in penalties.

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.

The New York-based National Coffee Association USA also insists that coffee, with just two parts per billion of acrylamide in each cup, does not increase the risk of cancer. The organization says coffee’s numerous antioxidants offer health benefits to consumers, including lowering the risk of several of the most common cancers, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and high blood pressure. A spokesperson from the association pointed out that CERT was founded by and located in the same office as lead counsel for the lawsuit, Raphael Metzger.

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