A re-heated coffee scare brought to you by Prop 65 activists

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Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 1.07.00 PMActivists are attacking Starbucks because its coffee like everyone else s coffee contains acrylamide. This is not because the company actually adds the chemical to its coffee, nor does anyone else it is formed naturally when the beans are roasted. It is also formed naturally in carbohydrate-rich foods such as breads, other baked goods, and French fries, when they are cooked at high temperatures. The group suing Starbuck s is CERT (Council for Education and Research on Toxics). The suit, originally brought in 2010, is now being adjudicated in a bench trial in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Under California s inane Proposition 65, any ingredient that causes cancer or reproductive harm in animal studies at whatever extravagant dose must be listed as a possible human carcinogen, requiring the manufacturer to add a warning label on the product advising people about this supposed risk to their health.

This is, to put it politely, a bunch of nonsense. As we have explained, acrylamide has always been present in such foods, and no one has ever demonstrated that they pose a cancer risk to humans. This action on the part of activists is likely just a way to make money.

Prop. 65, the law that makes all this possible, was passed in 1986, and has resulted in warning labels being appended to hundreds of products. What s really interesting about this law is that it has a so-called bounty-hunter provision. That is, if the California attorney general declines to prosecute a manufacturer, any citizen of the state or group can bring a suit, and if their extortionate tactics result in an award, they can share in any monetary fines that manufacturer must make.

Thus, as ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava says, This action by predatory Prop 65 lawyers, expert in extracting tribute from targeted companies, in no way reflects any danger to public health. There s no chance that the acrylamide found naturally in foods, including Starbucks coffee, is present in an amount that can harm its consumer. This suit is about the plaintiff s wish to generate funds, as well as to burnish their reputation as defenders of public health. But this move is just another example of scare-mongering at its worst.