(Reuters) – Starbucks Corp. (19459004] SBUX.O ) and other coffee sellers must apply a cancer warning on coffee sold in California, a Los Angeles judge has ruled and may have suspended millions of dollars in fines.
A little known hardship – A for-profit group sued 90 coffee retailers, including Starbucks, for violating a California law that requires companies to warn consumers about chemicals in their products that could cause cancer.
One of these chemicals is acrylamide, a by-product of roasting coffee beans in high quantities in brewed coffee.
Elihu Berle, judge at the Los Angeles Superior Court, said in a ruling on Wednesday that Starbucks and other companies had not demonstrated that there was a significant risk of a carcinogen in the coffee roasting process, court documents showed.
Starbucks and other defendants must object to the decision by April 10.
Starbucks declined comment, referring to a statement by the National Coffee Association (NCA) stating that the industry is considering an appeal and further legal action.
"Cancer signposts on coffee are misleading, and the US government's own nutritional guidelines state that coffee can be part of a healthy lifestyle," the NCA statement said.
In his decision, Berle said, "The defendants failed to cover their burden of proof by providing overwhelming evidence that the consumption of coffee is beneficial to human health."
Officials of Dunkin 'Donuts ( DNKN. O ), McDonald's Corp ( MCD.N ) did not immediately answer Peets and other large coffee sellers Asking for comments.
The lawsuit was filed in 2010 by the Council for Education and Toxicology (CERT). It charges fines of up to $ 2,500 per person for every exposure to the chemical since 2002 in the stores of the defendants in California. All civil penalties, which are decided in a third phase of the process, could be enormous in California, which counts nearly 40 million people.
The lawyer of CERT, Raphael Metzger, did not respond immediately to a comment.
Starbucks lost the first phase of the study, which failed to demonstrate that the acrylamide content in coffee was below what would be a significant cancer risk. In the second phase of the trial, the defendants have not proved that there is an acceptable "alternative" risk for the carcinogen, court documents showed.
Several defendants in this case agreed before the decision on Wednesday and agreed to release the signage on the anti-cancer chemical and pay millions in fines, according to reports released.
Reporting by Nate Raymond; Additional reporting by Lisa Baertlein; Letter from Andrew Hay; Arrangement by Richard Chang and Leslie Adler