Coffee and Cancer: The California Ruling

A Judge in California has passed a rule saying that coffee sold in the state must come with a cancer warning... what?! The ruling was made after it was revealed that a carcinogenic chemical, acrylamide, was found in coffee as it is a by-product of the roasting process. A carcinogen is a chemical that has the potential to cause the formation of cancerous tissue. This means that now all coffee packaging must carry a cancer warning, just like cigarettes.

So does coffee cause cancer?

What is difficult with this ruling is that coffee has not been proven to cause cancer, in fact it has been shown to have many health benefits. The ruling was made based on the discovery of a chemical inside coffee that is known to be carcinogenic, this does not mean that coffee directly causes cancer. This is the argument that the coffee industry is making and that cancer warnings on coffee would be fear-mongering and leading people to believe that they will get cancer if they drink coffee. Numerous studies have been performed that show that coffee drinkers actually have a lower risk of death, chronic diseases and many types of cancers! It has also been shown to be beneficial to diabetic patients and athletes. In no way, shape or form has coffee been proven to cause cancer!

What about this carcinogen in my coffee?

The research that started it all was research in rats and mice that showed adding acrylamide to their food or water resulted in tumours developing throughout their body. However with many of these studies, very high doses are used that are usually nowhere near what a human might actually be exposed to. Studies have also looked at humans who have been exposed to acrylamide in their food and their environment (it's not just found in coffee) and found that they had no increased risk of developing cancer. So this means the water is a little muddied, but there is no confirmed proof that it causes cancer in humans, just a potential risk based on the rodent studies. A wide array of foods in our diet, particularly cooked and fried foods, contain acrylamide so it would be impossible to get it out of our diet completely anyway, coffee has just become a target.

What will this ruling mean?

While this ruling is only in one US state, it is possible that it will spread elsewhere as this catches on and it is likely to scare off millions of coffee drinkers worldwide even if it doesn't become a law, just the rumour will be enough. The aim is to encourage coffee manufacturers to try and remove the chemical from the coffee during the roasting process. A similar situation occurred with potato chips (crisps for us UK folk) where a carcinogen was found in potato chips, manufactures quickly figured out how to remove it and no packaging warning is needed on any potato chips these days.

While this is quite a scary concept, the reality is that millions of things in our environments may cause cancer in some way and we can't always control things perfectly. Personally, unless there is solid proof that this does indeed cause cancer, I will still be having my two cups a day.
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