Starbucks, Other California Coffee Companies May Have to Put Cancer Warnings on Cups, Packaging After Lawsuit Loss
A Los Angeles judge has ruled against Starbucks and other big-name coffee sellers in a lawsuit filed back in 2010 by a not-for-profit group alleging that the companies were required to warn consumers about carcinogenic chemicals in their products.
One of those chemicals, acrylamide, is a byproduct of the roasting process, and is present in high levels in brewed coffee. This prevalence, alongside the ruling, could have major consequences for the coffee industry, as they could lead to millions of dollars in fines and require California-based coffee companies to add cancer warning labels and signage at cafés and restaurants.
According to court documents, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle said in the decision, given on Wednesday, that Starbucks and the other companies named in the lawsuit had failed to prove that there is no significant carcinogenic risk in their coffees.
While the defendants have until April 10 to appeal the decision, it could prove to be a game-changer. It’s currently unclear if the regulations would require companies to add warning labels on cups, packaging or signage (or some combination of the three), but it's likely to have some short-term ripple effect for businesses supplying those products to coffee sellers. And while it's still in its early stages, and only in California to this point, a regulatory shift on coffee could send shockwaves across the nation to an extent unseen since cigarettes were required to carry warning labels in 1965.
The fines suggested in the lawsuit are steep as well, calling for penalties up to $2,500 per person exposed to the chemical since 2002 in California. A large percentage of the population drinks coffee daily, often multiple times per day, and California has a population of 40 million. You do the math.
While Starbucks and others stuck it out until Wednesday’s decision, some defendants decided to settle beforehand, agreeing to post signage warning against the carcinogenic chemical as well as to pay millions in fines.
We’ll keep you updated as this story unfolds, but so far things aren't looking so great for California coffee sellers. Stay tuned.