Prop 65: Coffee gets the all clear in California

California has moved to correct a confusing contradiction on coffee and health.
California has moved to correct a confusing contradiction on coffee and health.

By William (Bill) Murray, President & CEO, National Coffee Association

Editor’s note: Links to the source documents in this post have been updated to reflect OEHHA’s announcement on June 3

It’s a great moment for the coffee industry and the billions of people around the world who enjoy their cup of joe every day.

In serving up the perfect blend of science and regulation, the State of California has moved to formally recognize that coffee should not carry a “cancer warning.”

What might seem like a “duh” moment to most scientists and coffee drinkers alike was actually years in the making.

California is known not only for sun, surf, and freeways, but also a specific piece of legislation commonly called “Prop 65.”  If you have ever purchased something very ordinary – sneakers, an artificial Christmas tree, jewelry – you may have noticed an incongruous Prop 65 “cancer warning,” mandated by the State.

Because of lawsuits filed in California by an organization working “in the public interest,” some coffee companies have posted Prop 65 warning signs in coffee shops and applied them to their product.

These labels and signs have confused consumers – for good reason.  The very idea of “cancer warnings” for coffee contradicts the overwhelming real-world evidence. 

Literally hundreds of independent, peer-reviewed scientific studies – not funded by the coffee industry – show that drinking coffee may reduce the risk of serious diseases including liver cancer, endometrial cancer, melanoma, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes – and more. Research also suggests that coffee drinkers may live longer than non-coffee drinkers.

The total body of research regarding coffee and cancer was reviewed recently by the World Health Organization, which concluded that coffee is not carcinogenic and may even help protect against some types of cancer.

Coffee, when roasted, naturally, contains trace amounts of a chemical called acrylamide – which, all by itself, requires a “cancer” warning – even though coffee itself doesn’t cause cancer

Now, the State has moved to correct this confusing contradiction.

California has joined the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, the US Food and Drug Administration, and the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines in recognizing coffee’s place in a healthy diet.

If the science is so settled, why do we still see headlines and perhaps the occasional Prop 65 sign on the health impacts of coffee?

First, legal proceedings being what they are, there’s no doubt that the “public interest” organization suing coffee companies – and pursuing hundreds of millions of dollars in fines and fees – will continue legal actions. As a result, it may be some time until the ongoing litigation – which had been winding through the courts for nearly a decade – is finally resolved and all the signs are gone.

Second, coffee gets clicks. Stories about coffee’s health impacts, both positive and negative, will continue to make headlines. When considering a new study on coffee, it is important to cut through the hype and look at the facts and if the study actually shifts scientific consensus.

In the meantime, the consensus among scientists, governments, international organizations, and now even the State of California is clear: coffee can be part of a healthy diet.

So drink up, enjoy your coffee and have another cup to celebrate the good news!

Visit the NCA website to learn more about coffee and Prop. 65

Related Reading:

Coffee won’t need cancer warning in California after all, Los Angeles Times

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