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Java Medicine The Courts Science

California Bypasses Science To Label Coffee a Carcinogen (undark.org) 277

travers_r writes: Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle affirmed last week that all coffee sold in California must come with a warning label stating that chemicals in coffee (acrylamide, a substance created naturally during the brewing process) are known to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm. But judges, journalists, and environmental advocates fail to recognize the critical difference between probably and certainly, which fuels the inaccurate belief that cancer is mostly caused by things in the environment. From a report at Undark: "IARC is one of the leading scientific bodies in the world, and it is also one of several expert panels on which California relies for scientific opinions in such cases. The IARC has concluded that while there is sufficient evidence to consider acrylamide carcinogenic in experimental animals, there is insufficient evidence for carcinogenicity in humans. Therefore, its overall evaluation is that 'acrylamide is probably carcinogenic to humans.'
Leading experts, in fact, believe that roughly two-thirds of all cancers are the result of mutations to DNA that are caused by natural bodily processes, not exposure to environmental chemicals. This is quite the opposite of the prevailing belief among the public that most cancers are caused by exogenous substances imposed on us by the products and technologies of the modern world. It's this belief -- this fear -- that prompted voters to pass Proposition 65 in 1986. It was a time when fear of hazardous waste and industrial chemicals was high, when chemophobia -- a blanket fear of anything having to do with the word 'chemicals' -- was being seared into the public's mind."

California Bypasses Science To Label Coffee a Carcinogen

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  • by jfdavis668 ( 1414919 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2018 @08:50PM (#56624004)
    The story will be completely different if they discover that marijuana is a carcinogen. No big company to blame for that one.
    • I suspect there are a lot of coffee companies in CA that are smaller than most pot farms. Just saying. It's coffee FFS. It's been the Hipster's drink before hipsters were cool.

  • According to California, EVERYTHING causes cancer. We should just stick a label on everything to make sure we cover all our bases.

    Warning: Most of California's leadership / residents are complete idiots and, when they move to other States, have a tendency to bring their own special brand of stupidity with them. Which, they then demand that their new home city adopt the same stupid rules, regulations and ideals that caused them to move away from California in the first place.

    Personally, I think Californi

    • by imidan ( 559239 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2018 @09:05PM (#56624108)

      They do put those labels on an incredible amount of stuff. I guess I understand the original intent of the warnings, and it seems like they had good intentions. But there comes a point when they need to re-evaluate the utility. When warning labels are on almost everything you see, they reach a point of semantic satiation, where they lose all meaning.

      As a product liability issue, if I were selling physical products in California, I'd be tempted to put a warning label on everything I sold, regardless of whether they said I had to. That way, I can't get caught when it turns out that some chemical that was used in the preparation of some part turns out to be on the bad list...

      • by aevan ( 903814 )
        *awaits the dramatic twist: Labels in California Cause Cancer. Class-action suit launched against Everyone.
      • What everybody (except maybe a few mom and pops) have been doing for a good decade now.

        Why wouldn't you?

        I think the forest service should put the signs on the national forests. At least on every logging road...That will be a good use of money.

        Also the state and national parks...just full of known carcinogens. Every fire pit, no matter how temporary, needs a warning. Best just put one on every rock.

        • They also need to send a mission to the Sun to put a warning label there as well. Thy will have to go at night though, so they don't burn up.

      • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

        A labeling law was passed by CA voters, and then the technology got better at detecting potential problems. The law probably needs tuning, like everything else subject to scientific and technological progress. Adjust and move on instead of make it into a red-vs-blue troll-war.

        • The real problem is that it was passed by voters, which means fixing it will either take a long petition/proposition/vote process, or require a large majority in the legislature. Making adjustments in this case is not easy.
          • by slew ( 2918 )

            The real problem is that it was passed by voters, which means fixing it will either take a long petition/proposition/vote process, or require a large majority in the legislature. Making adjustments in this case is not easy.

            The Dems have a supermajority in California legislature which matches the voter demographics. The problem is a majority of people (voters and/or legislators) are still pro-label and anti-change, not that this is difficult to fix, but labelling still appears to represent the majority view...

            That's the probably a symptom of democracy. We are collectively subject to the will of the majority..

      • As a product liability issue, if I were selling physical products in California, I'd be tempted to put a warning label on everything I sold, regardless of whether they said I had to.

        Reading this post gave me cancer. Expect a lawsuit.

    • You're not exaggerating by much when you say everything. Even parking garages and hotels are required to have cancer warnings.

    • The last time I was in California, the hotel I was staying at (which was a $400+/night hotel) had a small sign in the lobby that said that the hotel itself was known to the state of California to possibly cause cancer. This, combined with the Disneyland sign (Disneyland also has a sign that says it causes Cancer) should be all the evidence needed to.prove that this law does absolutely nothing and is simply a mocking example of the end result of the direct democracy system in place in California.

    • Yes, brought to you by the people who don't realize that sticking "DANGER" signs on everything doesn't actually make people safer.

      Of course its rarely about actual risk and more about lawsuit avoidance (we warned you that this site contains substances known to cause cancer), or simply scoring political points with stupid voters.

      I'm assuming that we will soon have radiation trifoils everywhere because there is detectable radiation everywhere.

  • Naturally? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2018 @08:58PM (#56624060)

    acrylamide, a substance created naturally during the brewing process

    Since when did coffee beans naturally brew themselves?

    Just sayin'

    • At least it doesn't make you go blind?
    • Personally I eat coffee beans covered in chocolate. No brewing required!
    • Are you daft? It's the same natural process that evaporates the tobacco and the chemicals in a cigarette, when the tip of the cigarette is lighted.

    • It's a poor choice of words, but at the same time I think the reasonable reader should be able to identify that the intent was "endogenously to the brewing process".

      In other words, it's not added to the product. Contrast with the laundry list of shit they put in cigarettes [wikipedia.org], as opposed to nicotine that is already in the tobacco.

      Moreover, there's some rationale to believing in stricter standards and warning labels for a substance that's added to a product. Certainly a company bears a higher moral responsibili

  • by Kohath ( 38547 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2018 @08:58PM (#56624066)

    These warnings are meaningless. Their purpose was to setup a mechanism for attorneys to sue any company for failing to warn you. So every company puts them everywhere.

    • In some places, the warnings are law solely for that purpose. Why don't Doritos come with an explosive diarrhea warning? Hmm?
  • I assume that California will now mandate signs on all egress doors warning that solar radiation is an IARC Group 1 carcinogen, the highest rating there is.

  • This won't say that coffee causes cancer. It doesn't say that the ingredients in your coffee are causing cancer if you drink it.

    This is simply the knowledge that there exist ingredients in your coffee that do, in some scenarios, cause cancer in some beings.

    It has nothing to do with you drinking it.

    It's like advertising on a bottle of ketchup: "ketchup can also be used to remove rust from cutlery". It has nothing to do with your hot dog.

    It's just interesting knowledge. If you choose to believe that rust-r

    • by Zobeid ( 314469 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2018 @09:13PM (#56624146)

      The medium is the message. Warning labels on products are viewed by consumers as warnings.

      It's the same problem with GMO labeling. If you write on the label that "this product was produced with genetic engineering", people will easily take away the implication that they're being warned away from something harmful—even though it doesn't say that at all.

    • by raind ( 174356 )
      Good point! Now if only we can apply that to FB and Google use.
    • It's just interesting knowledge. If you choose to believe that rust-removal systems shouldn't be ingested, then you can avoid ketchup.

      That's what I keep telling people when I have my morning cup of Benzine. It's only a risk if you chose to believe that cancer causing substances cause cancer when ingested.

  • It was a time when fear of hazardous waste and industrial chemicals was high, when chemophobia -- a blanket fear of anything having to do with the word 'chemicals'

    If anything, that is worse today. Point out to someone that broccoli is mostly carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, and they get confused. They can't explain what it is exactly that they don't like, but "chemicals" is not the answer.

    • I can't believe the number of people who willingly - even GLEEFULLY! - guzzle liter after liter of hyroxyl acid...
  • by Misagon ( 1135 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2018 @09:34PM (#56624250)

    Acrylamide has been known as a carcinogen for quite a long time, at least for high concentrations in contact with the skin. When you have swallowed it however, it gets submerged in stomach acid which should destroy it.
    All carbs that have been roasted contain acrylamide, the darker the roasting the higher the concentration. Another known source is bread crust that has been baked a dark brown.

    But there is a lot more to cancer risk than ingesting one type of carcinogen.
    Coffee is also known to contain a high amount of antioxidants that are known to neutralise free radicals -- another group of carcinogens.
    So the net effect of drinking coffee may in fact be beneficial.

    We ingest and inhale all sorts of other carcinogens all the time and cancer cells do form in the body quite often -- but are almost always quickly killed by the immune system! I believe that the best way to avoid getting cancer is to keep a strong immune system by keeping both the body and mind strong and healthy -- and that means most of all to avoid a stressful lifestyle.

    BTW. Dark-roasted coffee is overrated anyway. I see no point in drinking something with a taste of tar and with most of the good coffee flavour having been destroyed in the roasting.

  • by bferrell ( 253291 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2018 @09:52PM (#56624310) Homepage Journal

    Is who pushed this to court/into a law the court had to rule on?

    I think that will tell us MUCH MUCH more.

  • by Hartree ( 191324 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2018 @10:00PM (#56624342)

    They can stop selling coffee in California since they think it's a carcinogen.

    That means that all of the coffee drinkers in Silicon Valley will either have to stop or move to some place sane.

    This is a double win for those of us in the "flyover" states. Coffee will be cheaper due to decreased demand and companies will be forced to pay higher wages to programmers to lure them to the lands of soybeans and corn where coffee can be had!

    • THIS is the kind of hyper-over-reaction we've sadly come to accept as "normal". A LABEL somehow means "stop selling coffee in California since they think it's a carcinogen."
      That's as dumbass as can be. Sean Hannity is just dying to interview you.
    • stop or move to some place sane.

      Please don't. We don't want their kind here.

  • 1) As a proud, card-carrying, tree-hugging Liberal(TM) I'm dismayed by this as it feeds into that whole "Gummint Bad" mentality that can be fed by such bizarre rulings.

    2) As long as there is no outright ban or special tax, ala the "soda tax", which is just stupid, on coffee, then labelling is, IMO, just spreading knowledge. Look at the labels on every gas pump warning that gas fumes are bad. Well, D'uh! As a gas-jockey back in the day, I might have liked to know, but still would likely have made the same
    • 1) As a proud, card-carrying, tree-hugging Liberal(TM) I'm dismayed by this as it feeds into that whole "Gummint Bad" mentality that can be fed by such bizarre rulings.

      Especially in this case - where the honorable Judge is almost certainly wrong.

  • Acrylamide - my, what a nasty sounding word. Do we know that Acrylamide exists in French Fries or Potato Chips? Black Olives? Prunes? Deep frying starchy foods? Yes we do!

    Acrylamide scare reminds me a little of the great devil Nitrates/Nitrites. Many people demand only healthy "uncured bacon" to avoid nitrates while happily munching on healthe veggies that contain a lot of Nitrate. Meanwhile it appears that coffee drinkers live longer and healthier lives.

  • Makes me want to start smoking again.

  • Everything in California causes cancer. I'm staying the fuck out of that death trap.
  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Thursday May 17, 2018 @01:17AM (#56625044)
    The warnings are due to Proposition 65 [wikipedia.org] - a citizen's ballot initiative which passed in 1986. It mandates a ridiculously low non-scientific threshold for requiring a cancer warning - a 1 in 100,000 chance of getting cancer due to exposure [cancer.org]. By comparison, your lifetime odds of being killed [iii.org] by car is 1 in 114. By a pool is 1 in 5772. By falling from a ladder is 1 in 7707. By dog attack is 1 in 112,400. By lightning is 1 in 161,856. So we're talking about cancer risk levels which are minuscule compared to other risks you face during your lifetime.

    But that's the threshold Prop 65 requires. So practically everything ends up requiring a Prop 65 warning label, including silly things like coffee. The judge can disagree with it, but has to comply with it because the text of the law is very specific. I've often joked that every door leading outside should have a Prop 65 warning above it because sunlight is known to cause cancer (about 1 in 43 people will get skin cancer in their lifetime).

    About the only purpose Prop 65 serves is to enrich lawyers who go around finding businesses without the warning sing, and suing them for non-compliance, then settling the lawsuit for a few thousand dollars. The usual victim is an immigrant small business owner who never would've dreamed that such a silly law exists.
  • Bananas contain potassium. Some of the natural potassium is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potassium-40 which is radioactive and radiates your body. Isaac Asimov once conjectured that the radiation from potassium in animal's bodies is what accelerated evolution - but of course causes cancers too.
    So let's label bananas!

  • ....acrylamide, a substance created naturally during the brewing process...

    Acrylamide is created during the roasting process and not during brewing. The temperatures during brewing are way too low and the time far too short for the Maillard reaction to happen.

  • The science shows that the substance causes cancer in animals.
    The signs state that the substance causes cancer.

    It's stupid and pointless, but it's not going against the science. If you want to attack prop 65 then do so because it's stupid and pointless, don't resort to lying about the science.

  • IARC is not highly respected for the very point made here. There designations ignore dosage. If you drown a lab rat in something and it gets cancer to IARC Its a carcinogen. That pretty much makes everything a carcinogen. Alcohol, campfires, woodworking, they all hold IARCs highest warning. They also do not really take into account the credibility of studies just quantity.

  • Californians get to suffer a little more because of their legal stupidity. I hope manufacturers will be good enough to use stickers or make California specific packaging (or just stop selling in California) rather than subjecting the rest of us to this lunacy. Personally, I think if it's such a problem then California should just ban Coffee outright. ;)
  • So, should CA start posting signs that Lawyers can cause cancer?
  • As much as we like to assume legislators are simply braindead .. this is not always the case.

    The most likely explanation here: they tried to shake various coffee chains, distributors, and resellers down for "campaign contributions" and were denied. Hence, added to the cancer list.

The absent ones are always at fault.