Coffee Doesn't Deserve California’s Cancer Risk Warning, FDA Says

(Bloomberg) -- The top U.S. regulator of food and health products endorsed a plan by California officials to exempt coffee from a state law that would have made Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts and other coffee shops add a cancer warning to cups of joe.

The latest research “does not support a cancer warning for coffee,” Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement. Such a label “could mislead consumers to believe that drinking coffee could be dangerous to their health when it actually could provide health benefits,” Gottlieb said. Misleading labeling could also violate federal law, he said.

California’s Proposition 65, passed by ballot measure in 1986, requires the state to maintain a list of toxic or carcinogenic substances, and makes businesses tell consumers when they may be exposed. That list contains a chemical called acrylamide, which forms in food when cooked at high temperatures, such as while roasting coffee beans.

In a lawsuit brought by an advocacy group, a Los Angeles court ruled earlier this year that coffee shops such as Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts would have to warn customers under the law. California regulators in June proposed a rule to exempt chemicals “produced as part of and inherent in the processes of roasting coffee beans and brewing coffee.” Public comments on the carve-out are due Aug. 30.

Coffee is no longer considered a possible cancer hazard by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization that is the global authority on the science of potential carcinogens. Two years ago, the agency reassessed evidence from more than 1,000 human and animal studies and found the science didn’t support coffee being labeled as a cancer risk.

Other research has found that coffee may confer a variety of health benefits, such as reduced risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

The FDA wrote to California regulators in support of the java exemption.

“Strong and consistent evidence shows that in healthy adults moderate coffee consumption is not associated with an increased risk of major chronic diseases, such as cancer, or premature death,” Gottlieb said.

Some business groups have long opposed state laws like Proposition 65 and favored uniform federal rules instead. An industry-backed bill in Congress would simplify regulations, though some consumer advocates fear it would water down information consumers want to make informed purchases.

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