Coffee and cancer
Starbucks and other coffee sellers must put cancer warning on coffee sold in California”
If you’re a coffee lover, and seen the alarming headlines, there is good news for you. The California court has ruled that a cancer-warning label should be required on coffee. But, science suggests such a warning may be premature before more investigations.
The whole incident began in early 2018, when a little-known not-for-profit group sued about 90 coffee retailers, including Starbucks, Keurig Green Mountain and Peet’s, for violating a California law requiring companies to warn consumers if their products contain one of the more than 900 chemicals the state has ruled that could cause cancer.
The chemical was acrylamide, a byproduct of roasting coffee beans that is present in brewed coffee. Acrylamide is formed during high-temperature cooking of many foods that have been roasted, baked, toasted or fried. There are many factors that can affect acrylamide levels in coffee, including roasting temperature, coffee species, roasting time, storage conditions.
The scientific community has expressed their views on this. Kathryn Wilson, a Harvard senior research scientist who studies the link between diet and cancer and Frank Hu, chair of the department of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, both said that in animal studies involved, high levels of acrylamide exposure may cause cancer in the animals. But there is little evidence that acrylamide intake is related to cancer in humans.
Starbucks and other coffee retailers have acknowledged the presence of the chemical, found in trace levels that is harmless. If coffee needs a cancer warning, other foods with acrylamide, like French fries, toast, crackers, cookies and cereal also need a warning.
Putting cancer warning labels on coffee would be misleading, because the link between coffee consumption and cancer risk has been researched in many studies. In 2016, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization found that coffee consumption was actually associated with lower risk of uterine cancer and liver cancer. Coffee has also been found to reduce the risk of type two diabetes and heart disease. The IARC scientists did acknowledge that consuming very hot beverages of any type may possibly cause esophageal cancer, so let your coffee cool before drinking.
While the law applies only to California now, out-of-state coffee drinkers may also see such warning on their coffee.
The next time you pick up a cup of Starbucks in the City of Angels, sip away and stay grounded.
Lim Guan Yu
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