What’s your favorite way to start your day? Is it downing a shot of espresso before both of your eyes are completely open? Is it tracing careful shapes in the foam of your latte? Or is it with a reminder that your coffee of choice might cause cancer and lead to your eventual, untimely death?
If you live in California, you may have to start waking up to a new, terrifying warning pasted on the side of your to-go cups.
In 2010, a nonprofit organization called Council for Education and Research on Toxics filed a lawsuit against Starbucks, 7-Eleven and BP, among others, alleging that these coffee-serving companies “failed to provide clear and reasonable warning” that drinking the beverage could expose their customers to a chemical called acrylamide. The lawsuit required the companies to pay fines for violating the California Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (also known as Prop 65) and failing to post warnings that coffee contains this harmful, potentially carcinogenic substance. (GOOD MORNING, EVERYONE!)
According to CNN, 13 of the defendants have settled with the Council and have agreed to put visible signage up in their stores. A private mediation was scheduled for this week and, if an agreement couldn’t be reached with the remaining defendants, a judge is expected to rule on the decision later this year.
So what is acrylamide, other than something you don’t want to get at Starbucks? It’s a chemical that can form when certain foods are cooked, fried or baked at high temperatures. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, it is mainly found in potato products, grains and coffee, but not in dairy products, meats or fish. The FDA first discovered this chemical in foods in 2002 and, since then, has been “actively investigating” its effects.
Acrylamide has been shown to cause cancer in animals in certain studies but – and this is a big but – those animals were given “1,000 to 100,000 times higher” doses than what humans consume through their diets. The state of California has previously added acrylamide to its list of known carcinogens, and has also filed its own lawsuits against fast food restaurants and potato chip manufacturers, demanding that they reduce the levels of the chemical in their products. (Burger King, McDonald’s and others agreed to put warnings in their restaurants, while Pringles reduced the amount of acrylamide to a level deemed safe – or safe enough not to have a warning – by the state).
“Coffee has been shown, over and over again, to be a healthy beverage. The US Government’s own Dietary Guidelines state that coffee can be part of a healthy lifestyle,” Bill Murray, the president of the National Coffee Association, told CNN. “This lawsuit simply confuses consumers, and has the potential to make a mockery of Prop 65 cancer warning at a time when the public needs clear and accurate information about health.”
Acrylamide might be semi-scary, but there’s nothing more terrifying than a day without coffee.