"Since the defendants were unable to prove that coffee has any health benefits, the defendants failed to prove their burden of proof for the presence of an alternative level of acrylamide in coffee," the judge wrote.
More than 3.4 billion pounds of coffee were consumed between October 2016 and September 2017 in the United States, more than in all of South America, according to the International Coffee Organization.
William Murray, managing director of the Coffee Association, wrote in an e-mail on Friday that the presence of acrylamide in coffee is "not in doubt", but emphasized that the values are "tiny."
"Coffee is much more than acrylamide – it literally contains hundreds of substances and is one of the most researched foods of all time," he said.
Attaching warning signs to coffee would be "simply confusing and misleading," he said, citing statements by the World Health Organization that the drink does not cause cancer, and studies showing that coffee provides health benefits such as longevity.
"Coffee has shown itself over and over again as a healthy drink," he said in a statement  Starbucks and other defendants may object to the proposed decision within the next two weeks.
"You should expect this matter not to be decided in the courts for months," Murray wrote.
Companies that breach Proposition 65 could face fines of up to $ 2,500 per day per offense, according to the California Attorney General's Office. Some companies have already settled.
In a court document filed in December, 7-Eleven agreed to auction signs in its corporate and franchise stores and pay $ 900,000 to cover the plaintiff's civil and administrative costs.
The National Cancer Institute notes that coffee is one of the major sources of acrylamide, along with potato chips, bread, breakfast cereals and black canned olives. But the government agency also mentions on its website that acrylamide levels in food are very different and that "people are exposed to much more acrylamide by tobacco smoke than by food."
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