The push to include the cautionary message on coffee products would be the result of a lawsuit filed by the non-profit organization, the Council for Education and Research on Toxics.
First filed in 2010, the lawsuit says several companies that buy or sell coffee have failed to notify customers of a potentially cancer-causing chemical in coffee. Acrylamide, which is created when coffee beans are roasted, is listed by the state of California as a substance that may cause cancer.
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What is acrylamide and how big is the risk?
The U.S. National Cancer Institute explains that the chemical is found in several substances such as paper and plastics. It’s also used to treat drinking water and can be in food packaging.
Health Canada says the chemical is present in certain foods that are processed at high heat, such as potato products like french fries and chips. However, it is also found in other products such as crackers, bread, cookies, cereal, canned black olives, prune juice, and coffee.
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While Health Canada recognizes acrylamide may pose a potential health risk, it says the severity is currently unknown by researchers.
“Since acrylamide is known to cause cancer in experimental animals, further research on the effects of exposure to acrylamide is needed before the risks to human health associated with acrylamide exposure from food sources can be fully understood.”
The health agency does advise Canadians to limit intake of the chemical, but focuses on potato products — it says to cook fries in lower oil temperatures, not over frying, and soaking potatoes in water prior to cooking.
California lawsuit’s demands
While the health agencies have focused on potatoes as the main source of the chemical, this lawsuit zeros in on coffee, demanding that coffee companies give customers a “clear and reasonable warning” on store walls of the cancer risk.
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It says that companies should also pay fines for failing to alert costumers in the past, and ultimately work to lower the amount of acrylamide in their products.
Several companies, including 7-Eleven have agreed to post the warning, but others have not.
Coffee makers say it is a ‘healthy beverage’
Starbucks referred questions about its position on the lawsuit to the National Coffee Association.
The organization’s CEO said that the lawsuit overlooks the many studies that have found coffee to be a “healthy beverage.”
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“Coffee has been shown, over and over again, to be a healthy beverage,” Bill Murray said in a statement to ABC News.
In 2016, the World Health Organization reported that there is no conclusive evidence linking coffee to cancer. But it said that drinking “very hot” drinks — around 65 C — is possibly carcinogenic.
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Coffee companies are set to take part in talks with lawyers for Council for Education and Research on Toxics this month, and a judge will rule sometime this year on whether cancer warning labels must be added.