It's official: coffee sold anywhere in California must now carry cancer warning labels, a Los Angeles judge has ruled. No company is exempt from the new policy. Starbucks, other lesser-known coffee chains, and independent roasters must all comply.

Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle stated in a ruling published on May 7 that Starbucks and other coffee retail chains failed to show that the benefits of coffee offset the risks of acrylamide, a potentially cancerous byproduct produced in the coffee roasting process.

Coffee Shops To Put Cancer Warnings On Their Products

The ruling follows Berle's tentative decision made this past March, which required all coffee places in California to put coffee cancer labels on applicable products.

The Council for Education and Research on Toxics, a nonprofit group, sued about 90 companies under a state law that makes it compulsory for companies to put warnings on products that carry carcinogens.

The coffee industry didn't deny that acrylamide is present in coffee, but argued it was at harmless levels and that coffee products should be excluded from the law because acrylamide results naturally from cooking necessary for flavor.

Permanent Injunction Could Happen

The ruling gives CERT an opportunity to ask for a permanent injunction that would require coffee sellers to warn consumers about the cancer risk linked to acrylamide. CERT's attorney, Raphael Metzger, hopes that the ruling will result in a settlement that would require coffee chains to remove the chemical from their products entirely.

"Just giving warnings to people who are really addicted to the product, like me, doesn't do much," he said.

CERT already achieved such a feat when years ago it sued potato chip companies over the acrylamide in their products. It eventually led to a settlement that required the companies to reduce the chemical over three years.

If no settlement is reached, another trial would determine civil penalties as high as $2,500 for each person exposed to coffee each day since 2010, when the suit was filed.

"They've lost all their defenses and we proved our case. The only issues left are the nature and form of the injunction and the amount of penalties to be assessed. It's not a pretty place for them to be," said Metzger.

Two years ago, Berle ruled the coffee industry's best defense before handing down the tentative decision this March. At the time, the industry said it was thinking about its options, such as appealing. It argued that cancer warnings on coffee would mislead the public, stressing that several studies have shown the health benefits of coffee consumption.

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