Attack of the Killer Cappuccino
By: The Editorial Board
Californians will soon get something besides milk and cinnamon with their coffee—a mandated warning that their morning pick-me-up may kill them. A Los Angeles Superior Court ruled Thursday against Starbucks and other cafes and gas stations, penalizing them because they couldn’t definitively prove that coffee doesn’t cause cancer. In addition to slapping a cancer warning on each cup of joe, the companies may have to pay millions in civil penalties and lawsuit settlements.
At issue is a chemical called acrylamide, which is created when coffee beans are roasted. It’s also common in other foods, including bread, cookies, cereals, potato chips and French fries. But under California’s 1986 Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, better known as Proposition 65, acrylamide is listed as a likely human carcinogen.
California’s cancer list relies heavily on junk science, and with acrylamide the evidence is questionable at best. Some government agencies want more research into its carcinogenic potential, and the American Cancer Society does, too.
But the group also notes that even those tentative concerns derive mainly from studies that examined its effects on lab animals, not people. The doses of acrylamide given to rats and mice “have been as much as 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than the levels people might be exposed to in foods,” the American Cancer Society says. The group adds that for humans “there are currently no cancer types for which there is a clearly increased risk related to acrylamide.”
The evidence is so scant that even the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer admitted in 2016 that there was “no conclusive evidence for a carcinogenic effect of drinking coffee.” Its review of more than 1,000 studies turned up evidence that coffee may reduce the risk of some types of cancer. This is the same alarmist outfit that thinks everything from red meat to working the night shift causes cancer.
But however feeble the evidence, Prop. 65 encourages trial lawyers and their front groups to sue on behalf of the state by offering them a cut of the civil penalties. Last year Prop. 65 cases yielded $25.6 million in settlements, and more than three-fourths of that sum went to the lawyers. Trial lawyer Raphael Metzger brought the case against Starbucks and 90 other cafes and gas stations, working on behalf of something called the Council for Education and Research on Toxics. The same “nonprofit” and attorney also sued McDonald’s and Burger King over acrylamide in 2002.
The Starbucks shakedown was easy in part because under Prop. 65 the co-defendants bore the burden of proof. The 7-Eleven chain decided to settle, paying $900,000. For the remaining defendants, Mr. Metzger is now seeking civil penalties as high as $2,500 per person for each “exposure” since 2002. That adds up in a state with roughly 40 million residents.
The case is further proof that Prop. 65 is a lot like a cup of coffee: Even if it doesn’t kill you, it can keep you up at night. Or maybe it’s further proof that California progressives are nuts.