Warning: California’s Coffee “Cancer” Labels May Be Hazardous to Public Health


Last week, a Los Angeles judge ruled that coffee roasters and retailers must serve up a cancer warning with coffee sold in California under Prop. 65 regulations, based on the naturally-occurring presence of acrylamide from the roasting process.

The decision goes against what the science shows us – including the conclusions of the World Health Organization. Study after study, conducted independently and published in peer-reviewed journals, has shown the potential health benefits of drinking coffee — from liver health to living longer.

“The latest development in the Prop. 65 case is deeply disappointing, and could result in completely inappropriate cancer warning labels for coffee,” said William (“Bill”) Murray, President & CEO, National Coffee Association. “Science tells us that such warnings are inaccurate and inconsistent with what the science says about coffee’s positive role in a healthy lifestyle. This isn’t just bad for business – it’s bad for consumers.”

Unfortunately, these mixed messages make it harder for people to focus on the facts (and context) behind the soundbites. This means consumers are increasingly confused – and concerned.

Our 2018 National Coffee Drinking Trends report found that 69% of consumers do not know that coffee may reduce illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, or stroke. At the same time, 43% of consumers indicated that more information about the potential health benefits of coffee would motivate them to drink more coffee.

In a way, it isn’t surprising that consumer understanding of coffee and health is limited.  More than ever before, we are flooded with huge amounts of information — and misinformation — about the things we eat and drink. But nutrition and health don’t exist in a vacuum, and the nuances of what’s best for every individual don’t fit in a headline – or a warning label.

In contrast to the spirit of the original legislation, it seems likely that California’s ruling will only make it harder for consumers to make informed, empowered decisions about their health.  The coffee industry will continue to fight this ruling with transparent, fact-based outreach and advocacy. And we’ll keep our members posted on what Prop. 65 could mean for your coffee business.

It turns out, we’re not alone in our concern. Here’s what researchers, medical experts, and scientists are saying about coffee, “cancer,” and Prop. 65:


Coffee Doesn’t Need Cancer Warning

American Institute for Cancer Research Blog

“There are hundreds of epidemiological studies on coffee and cancer and essentially none suggest increased cancer risk. On a “cancer worry” scale from 0 to 10, coffee should be solidly at 0 and smoking at 10; they should not have similar warning labels.” – Dr. Edward Giovannucci, Harvard School of Public Health


California, Coffee and Cancer: One of These Doesn’t Belong

The New York Times

“Warning labels should be applied when a danger is clear, a danger is large and a danger is avoidable. It’s not clear that, with respect to acrylamide, any of these criteria are met. It’s certainly not the case regarding coffee. Whatever the intentions of Proposition 65, this latest development could do more harm than good.”


California Ordered to Add Cancer Warning to Coffee, But the Science Doesn’t Hold Up

The Washington Post

The science of coffee is too nuanced to present on a warning label, he said. “People can’t do a meta-analysis of the data while they’re in the supermarket.”


A Bad Nudge From California


“It’s not in the public interest to produce unjustified fear.”


Cancer-Warning Labels On Coffee? California Ruling ‘Crazy,’ Scientists Say

The Seattle Times

“Reducing coffee or French fries to their acrylamide content isn’t how we study diet and nutrition.” – Kathryn Wilson, Harvard Senior Research Scientist


Share your thoughts on Prop. 65 and coffee in the comments below.

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