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Coffee Drinkers Need Cancer Warning, Judge Rules, Giving Sellers the Jitters

Thomas G

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This is the first I've heard about acrylamide. I'm really not sure how to make sense of this. It must be difficult for judges to try to wrap their heads around the science and make the correct ruling. I'd be interested in seeing some disinterested medical takes on the issue.


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The issue is not clear, since every toxic substance has its threshold limits for inhalation and ingestion. Many agencies are involved in the determination of such thresholds, like ACGIH, NIOSH, OSHA, EPA, IARC for carcinogenic molecules and depending on workplace and environmental exposure.

The article does not speak about legal thresholds. The EPA document on acrylamide focuses on inhaled acrylamide.




There are sure other refererences, but what needs to be done ias a 1st step in these cases is basically simple:

  1. Determine the concentration of the compound in the medium (acrylamide in coffee)
  2. Compare the above concentration to the threshold levels for human health as determined by the major agencies cited or local regulations.

Of course the concentration will be different in expresso and in diluted American coffee and it may vary according to the processing procedures.


It would be useful to read the trial documents which refer to the above toxicological aspects.


My take is presently neutral, I need to see the numbers before deciding for myself if coffe may really pose a risk to health.


Also, the ruling sounds pretty strange to us, since we know that literature abounds in papers outlining the health benefits of coffee and caffeine. Are we more informed than Starbucks?




Since defendants failed to prove that coffee confers any human health benefits, defendants have failed to satisfy their burden of proving that sound considerations of public health support an alternate risk level for acrylamide in coffee,” the judge wrote.
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In pag. 20, on the bottom, the excerpt rules out evidence of cancer for humans, deriving from dietary acrylamide compounds,  according to epidemiological studies. I cannot paste the excertp here.

In other parts a possible detrimental neurological effect is outlined, as well as a negative effect in pregnancy and development.


Acrylamide conpounds are contained in many foods which have been processed by heat, including coffe, cocoa, french fries, bread.

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Evidence from animal studies shows that acrylamide and its metabolite glycidamide are genotoxic and carcinogenic: they damage DNA and cause cancer. Evidence from human studies that dietary exposure to acrylamide causes cancer is currently limited and inconclusive.

Since acrylamide is present in a wide range of everyday foods, this health concern applies to all consumers but children are the most exposed age group on a body weight basis. The most important food groups contributing to acrylamide exposure are fried potato products, coffee, biscuits, crackers, crisp bread and soft bread.


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The IARC opinion. IARC is probably the highest authority on officially defining teh carcinogenicity of compounds




Acrylamide (AA) is a human neurotoxin and is currently classified by IARC as a Group 2A probable carcinogen. AA has been used since the 1950s as a chemical intermediate in numerous industrial applications. In 2002, it was discovered as a preparation by-product in heat-processed foods high in carbohydrate, such as snack foods, potato crisps, breads, cereal products, and coffee. In addition to dietary intake and potential exposure from chemicals or industrial processes that use polyacrylamide (i.e. flocculants, grouting materials, textile manufacture), the other major source of human exposure to AA is from tobacco smoking. Smokers have been observed to have higher levels of AA in their blood than non-smokers, and persons with higher consumption of some foods such as potato crisps and coffee have shown higher blood levels in some studies. AA is metabolized in the body to form the epoxide glycidamide (GA), a genotoxin. AA and GA form adducts with DNA and with amino acids in haemoglobin. Thus, AA and GA adducts with haemoglobin have been used to measure the relative internal doses of AA and GA between individuals. In the EPIC cohort, the main dietary sources of AA exposure based on 24-hour dietary recall data were bread, potatoes, crispbreads, cakes, and coffee.
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IARC Monographs evaluate drinking coffee, maté, and very hot beverages



Drinking coffee was not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans (Group 3).


The large body of evidence currently available led to the re-evaluation of the carcinogenicity of coffee drinking, previously classified as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B) by IARC in 1991.


After thoroughly reviewing more than 1000 studies in humans and animals, the Working Group found that there was inadequate evidence for the carcinogenicity of coffee drinking overall.


Many epidemiological studies showed that coffee drinking had no carcinogenic effects for cancers of the pancreas, female breast, and prostate, and reduced risks were seen for cancers of the liver and uterine endometrium.


For more than 20 other cancers, the evidence was inconclusive.


Coffee Causes Cancer. Coffee Prevents Cancer. Wait, What?



...yes, California has gone a bit nuts. Or, as the nonprofit American Council on Science and Health put it: "If coffee is deemed carcinogenic, then the State of California will be required to give up all pretense at common sense and sanity."


An afterthought: the lawsuit may be just about money. As Bloomberg News explained last October, in a story about the California coffee case: "Unfortunately, it is very easy for ‘bounty hunters’ to file Prop. 65 lawsuits against even small businesses and the cost of settlement and defense often exceeds other types of abusive litigation."


The American Council on Science and Health was even more blunt, calling it an attempt to grab "a giant bag of money."


FACT CHECK: Calif. Judge Rules Coffee Must Come With A Cancer Warning, But Should It?



The Associated Press reported that the judge has given coffee companies a few weeks to file their objections before the proposed ruling is finalized.


Some defendants in the coffee lawsuit have already settled, including 7-Eleven, which agreed to pay $900,000, reported the AP.


Toxic Java? California Law Carries Big Fines, Little Evidence



..among critics, the state’s uniquely stringent right-to-know law is ridiculed for the proliferation of warnings everywhere from gas stations to grocery stores -- and for lining the pockets of attorneys who sue and settle.


“Unfortunately, it is very easy for ‘bounty hunters’ to file Prop. 65 lawsuits against even small businesses and the cost of settlement and defense often exceeds other types of abusive litigation,” says Greg Sperla, a lawyer at Greenberg Traurig’s Sacramento office.


Last year, 760 Proposition 65 suits settled for a total of $30.2 million, according to data from the California attorney general. Of that total, $21.6 million, or 72 percent, went to lawyer’s fees and costs.


Peter Infante, an epidemiologist who testified for Metzger, said there were studies that showed a statistically significant correlation between coffee consumption and certain types of cancer. But he declined to assert there was a causal connection in the absence of further research.


“You would need a clinical trial to resolve the issue,” he said.

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Right Sibiriak, the IARC conclusions on coffee, tea and mate will be be published in monograph n° 116, and they've been officialy moved to group 3 in the meanwhile (Q&A document of 2016). 


I find it so weird that corporations such as Starbucks could not produce the IARC preliminary decision. IARC is the MOST authorative agency when carcinogenity in general of a compound is concerned. But maybe the final ruling of the judge went for the extra-precautionary principle. Group 3 does not mean that coffee is safe, it just means there is no conclusive evidence. In the doubt, let's rule it hazardous! Weird!I

Also, any hot drink which is sold should be reported as potentially cancerogenic for the oesophagus. 


Like the article you quoted suggests, maybe the aim of the lawsuit initiators was to find someone who was willing to settle the issue ASAP





10.Does the IARC classification mean that coffee is safe in terms of a potential link to cancer? A Group 3 evaluation does not mean that a substance has been proven to be safe. It means that the existing scientific data do not enable a conclusion to be made about whether it causes cancer. While this was the case for coffee overall, it was possible to conclude that coffee is unlikely to cause certain cancers, including cancers of the breast, prostate, and pancreas. Reduced risks were seen for cancers of the liver and uterine endometrium. For more than 20 other cancers, the evidence was inadequate to enable a conclusion to be made.


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Mccoy: Also, any hot drink which is sold should be reported as potentially cancerogenic for the oesophagus.



Logically, yes.  But legally these lawsuits are based on Proposition 65 which specifies a list of chemicals that are “known to the State of California to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity.”





"Salted fish, Chinese-style"  stands out as an unusual entry.


Processed meat is not on the list, despite strong evidence of carcinogenicity.

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