Starbucks and other coffee vendors must carry cancer warnings in California, a Los Angeles judge has ruled.
The companies have less than a fortnight to challenge the decision and could face millions of pounds in fines if unsuccessful.
The decision relates to a chemical called acrylamide, a byproduct of roasting coffee beans that is present in high levels in brewed coffee.
In California, companies are required by law to warn consumers if their products contain chemicals that could cause cancer.
A non-profit group claimed acrylamide was in that category and brought a lawsuit against some 90 coffee retailers including Starbucks.
Elihu Berle, a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge, ruled that the companies had failed to show there was no significant risk from a carcinogen produced in the roasting process.
The judge said: “Defendants failed to satisfy their burden of proving by a preponderance of evidence that consumption of coffee confers a benefit to human health.”
The lawsuit was filed in 2010 by the Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT). It calls for fines as large as $2,500 per person for every exposure to the chemical since 2002 at the defendants’ shops in California.
Given the state has a population of nearly 40 million any fines, which would be decided in a later stage of the trial, could be huge.
Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s and other coffee retailers did not comment on the decision according to Reuters, which reported the news.
A statement from the National Coffee Association (NCA) read: “Cancer warning labels on coffee would be misleading. The US government’s own dietary guidelines state that coffee can be part of a healthy lifestyle.”
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