- - Thursday, April 5, 2018

The judge who ruled the other day that coffee purveyors in California must put a cancer-risk warning label on their beans calls to mind the old joke about the man, getting a little long in the tooth, who was told by his doctor that he would have to give up wine, women and song. “But Doc,” he replied, “if I have to give up wine and women, what will I have to sing about?”

Some folks are apparently almost that passionate about a cup of Java. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle ruled for a self-styled public interest group, the righteous and pious Council for Education and Research on Toxics that argues that coffee is hazardous to their health, and deserves warning labels akin to those on tobacco products.

A full frontal assault on coffee would never succeed, even in California, but Judge Berle held that Starbucks and 90 other coffee vendors must warn customers there’s a risk of cancer from coffee, though infinitesimally small. The risk to the public from tort lawyers, however, is large. The plaintiffs asked that coffee shops, convenience stores and gasoline stations that sell coffee be fined up to $2,500 for every Californian exposed to acrylamide, a chemical compound created in the bean-roasting process, since 2002. That’s a lot of coffee drinkers.

Jonathan Turley, GOP witness, says he's received threats after impeachment testimony
Evangelist Franklin Graham calls impeachment hearing 'a day of shame for America'
CDC estimates 154,000 Americans have HIV but don't know it

The judge hasn’t ruled on the size of penalties, but it might be a jackpot the tort lawyer, Raphael Metzger, who brought the suit under California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act. Acrylamide has been listed as a likely human carcinogen under a 1986 law called Proposition 65.

Proposition 65 makes it possible to sue on behalf of the state and cutting it in on the civil penalties. According to The Wall Street Journal, last year Proposition 65 cases brought settlements totaling $25.6 million, with more than 75 percent of it going to the slip-and-fall lawyers who take such cases on contingency, meaning they do it for the prospect of taking most of the proceeds of the lawsuit.

The 7-Eleven chain, the nation’s fourth-largest seller of coffee by dollar volume, behind only McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks, settled out of court for $900,000.

Yet, the coffee-cancer connection is far from settled science. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, an affiliate of the United Nations’ World Health Organization, has characterized acrylamide as a human neurotoxin, but said in 2016 that there was “no conclusive evidence for a carcinogenic effect of drinking coffee.” Timothy Rebbeck, a professor at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, says the link between acrylamide and cancer in humans is weak and should be studied further.

“Cancer warning labels on coffee would be misleading,” the National Coffee Association concurs. “The U.S. government’s own dietary guidelines state that coffee can be part of a healthy lifestyle.”

Indeed, just two days before Judge Berle ruled that the defendants had failed to show that the “consumption of coffee confers a benefit to human health,” a Brazilian study suggested that coffee drinkers who consume more than three cups a day may reduce their risk for coronary artery calcium buildup, a heart-disease risk.

If Judge Berle had consulted WebMD.com, he would have learned that coffee is “a rich source of disease-fighting antioxidants” and that studies have shown it may also reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, colon and liver cancer, and Parkinson’s disease, among other illnesses and health woes. The laboratory rats and mice that developed cancer were dosed with acrylamide at rates 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than what humans would ever consume in coffee.

A similar manufactured health-scare hysteria in 1970 prompted the Food and Drug Administration to ban the artificial sweetener cyclamate, after a study found that feeding lab rats high doses of the chemical — between 5 percent and 7.5 percent of their diets, caused bladder cancer in the rodents. Cyclamate is still in use in more than 100 countries, it remains banned in the U.S. to this day. Anyone who imbibes 7.5 percent of his diet in cyclamate will no doubt perish long before he contracts bladder cancer. But not, alas, before he must endure further health-scare hysteria.

Sign up for Daily Opinion Newsletter

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide