Enacted in 1986, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act was intended to help the people of California make informed decisions about protecting themselves from chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects.
Californians know the ruling as Prop 65.
Under this California law, the state must keep an updated list of chemicals linked to cancer or reproductive harm. It also gives consumers the right to know if they risk exposure to anything on the list through food, drink or other means.
Sounds good, right?
In theory, it is. But when incomplete information and questionable motivation enter the picture, consumers become the victims of needless fear and confusion.
Take coffee, for example.
The chemical in question
Acrylamide is a chemical that forms naturally in a wide variety of foods when they’re cooked. This includes roasted coffee beans.
Workers in construction, oil drilling, mining, plastics and other industries can be exposed to acrylamide through skin contact or inhalation.
Research has shown that rats develop cancer when given high, daily doses of acrylamide. A daily cup of coffee (or two) doesn’t even come close to this level of consumption.
And, science tells us that rats metabolize acrylamide far differently from the way humans do.
But based on skewed information and desire for profit, Starbucks and other coffee sellers now stand accused of trying to give us cancer.
Greed and misinformation
Prop 65 opened the floodgates for lawsuits against California food companies. Last year alone, 681 Prop 65 settlements worth $25.6 million were reported to the California attorney general’s office. Attorney’s fees and litigation costs made up over 75% of that total.
In other words, someone besides consumers is profiting. Big time. And that should make us question the information we’re receiving.
In 2010, the Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT) sued ready-to-drink coffee companies like Starbucks for not providing cancer hazard warnings due to the acrylamide content of their coffee.
CERT’s address is the same as that of Metzger Law Group, who has brought many Prop 65 cases to court for CERT.
With the California attorney general reporting that over 75% of settlement monies from Prop 65 cases goes to attorneys’ fees, CERT’s status as an objective scientific group becomes questionable.
In contrast, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer found “no conclusive evidence for a carcinogenic effect of drinking coffee.”
So, what does science really say about coffee?
The lawsuits and warning labels don’t change the fact that, after decades of large, well-designed studies, we have evidence that coffee actually protects against some cancers while offering many other health benefits.
Data from a 2016 study showed that even moderate coffee consumption (1-2 cups a day) was associated with a 26 percent smaller chance of developing colorectal cancer. When study participants drank more than 2.5 servings a day, their risk fell as low as half the risk of those who drank less coffee.
Other research has linked coffee with lower risk for heart disease, depression and suicide, Alzheimer’s disease and type 2 diabetes. Coffee also protects against cirrhosis of the liver.
In fact, research from Harvard University seems to indicate that we may be genetically “wired” to consume and benefit from coffee.
In 2014, Marilyn Cornelus was a research associate at Harvard. Her research team traced coffee’s fingerprints to the human genome (DNA codes within our chromosomes).
They found a total of eight genes related to coffee consumption. Two were related to metabolism of caffeine and two to its psychoactive effects.
It seems we were made to be coffee-drinkers. So ignore the scare tactics and enjoy your java. Just take it easy on the cream and sugar!
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- Coffee with Cream, Sugar & a Dash of Acrylamide — Nathan A. Schachtman, Esq., P.C.
- New study links coffee consumption to decreased risk of colorectal cancer — American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
- 20+ Good Health Reasons To Drink Coffee — Caffeine Informer
- Java in the genes — Harvard University
- How Worried Do You Need to Be About Those Cancer Warnings for Your Coffee? — Self