Starbucks Causes Cancer!?

Coffee is about as likely as anything to cause cancer, so putting up a sign about it isn't really going to help anyone but the "sign lobby."

Apparently Starbucks has learned well from big tobacco and they’re getting ahead of the whole cancer thing whether or not they really need to. This morning while picking up my morning tea (and apple fritter), I ran across a Prop 65 warning very prominently posted–ironically above the aspartame, though that wasn’t mentioned specifically in the notice–about the cancer risks of acrylamide.

Prop 65 Warning at Starbucks All the fine print boils down to saying that coffee might cause cancer.
Prop 65 Warning at Starbucks
All the fine print boils down to saying that coffee might cause cancer.

I’ve read a fair amount about acrylamide in the past two years following the news that just about anything cooked or fried has small trace amounts of the substance, so I know there’s not too much to be worried about. The biggest “scare” was apparently over french fries–particularly those served at fast food restaurants. Apparently after the scare blew over the general public – the subject just didn’t seem to catch any traction aside from a few snippets in the mainstream press–Starbucks has decided to get out ahead of this “non-issue” just in case. (I will admit that the State of California has actually sued and won against major corporations under the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, Health and Safety Code section 25249.6, also known as “Proposition 65,” that businesses must provide persons with a “clear and reasonable warning” before exposing individuals to these chemicals which includes acrylamide.)

As an aside, I will mention that placing the warning on the condiments counter which I visit only after I’ve made my purchase seems a bit after-the-fact – it would have done me more good in front of the cash register. For the ambulance chasers, this is probably great “grounds”–pun intended–for a major class action.

PROP 65 WARNING

Chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and reproductive toxicity, including acrylamide, are present in coffee, baked goods, and other foods or beverages sold here. Acrylamide is not added to our products, but results from cooking, such as when coffee beans are roasted or baked goods are baked.  As a result acrylamide is present in our brewed coffee, including coffe made at home or elsewhere from our beans, ground or instant coffee, baked goods or other foods sold here, in grocery stores or other retail locations.

Your personal cancer risk is affected by a wide variety of factors.  For more information regarding acrylamide, see www.fda.gov. For more information about acrylamide and Proposition 65, visit www.oehha.ca.gov/prop65/acrylamide.html.

As posted in Starbucks Coffee, Lake Avenue, Pasadena, CA

While I laud their savvy general counsel, do we really need this type of notice in our lives? Humankind has been living with acrylamide cancer risk since the dawn of the Holocene when man first learned to use fire to cook, is there any reason to worry about it now?

I’m reminded of Jared Diamond’s book The World Until Yesterday and some of the things that primitive societies simply learn to live with, but which our overly litigious society just can’t seem to deal with logically. Simple things didn’t fool primitive societies like: don’t sleep under trees that look like they are dead or possibly rotting–just in case the tree falls over and kills you in the night while you’re sleeping. Yet somehow some of us need additional warnings about our coffee from McDonald’s being served hot  or cautions not to operate our toasters in the bathtub.

Next I fear that we’ll discover we need signs telling us that pinecones might fall out of pine trees.

Photo of large pine tree with an inordinately large caution sign next to it stating "Caution: Falling Cones."
“Caution Falling Cones”
Photo taken about 20 miles from Jared Diamond’s home in Los Angeles.

I sure hope that Henny Penny copyrighted, registered, and patented everything about the concept of “The Sky is Falling” as I’m sure it’ll have made her the richest chicken in the world.

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