SACRAMENTO – Conclusions issued last month by California's Environmental Health Hazard Assessment Office that coffee doesn't require a warning label in the state was the right decision, a 20th Assembly District representative said.
"I believe that OEHHA made the right decision to no longer require a Proposition 65 warning on coffee," California Democrat Assemblyman Bill Quirk said. "I’m not convinced that these warning labels deterred consumers from drinking coffee."
Studies also have not backed up any need to warning labels on the popular roasted bean-based beverage, Quirk said.
"The studies I have read regarding the effects and health impacts of coffee point to positive health effects and encourage the consumption of coffee, in moderation of course," he said.
Quirk, a nuclear physicist and former Hayward City Council member, was elected to the state Assembly in 2012. The 20th Assembly District encompasses San Francisco Bay Area's southern East Bay.
California's OEHHA's conclusions, issued June 3, stated that warning labels are not necessary after finding no significant cancer risks exist from trace amounts of acrylamide, a known carcinogen, in coffee.
Acrylamide is commonly used to as part of the manufacturing process to produce paper, dyes and other produce and can be formed when certain foods are cooked at high temperatures, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Food and cigarette smoke are major sources of acrylamide exposure but the amount of the chemical in coffee is very small.
Under California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, known as Proposition 65, chemicals on the Prop 65 list of naturally occurring and synthetic chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm are required to carry warning notifications. The current proposition 65 list includes acrylamide.
Some legal observers predicted coffee in California would soon come with a required warning label after Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle ruled in March of last year that coffee producers had not proven that drinking coffee is good for people.
Later in the year, Federal Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb wrote to regulators in California in support of exempting coffee from warning labels.
"Strong and consistent evidence shows that in healthy adults moderate coffee consumption is not associated with an increased risk of major chronic diseases, such as cancer, or premature death, and some evidence suggests that coffee consumption may decrease the risk of certain cancers," Gottlieb said in a statement issued Aug. 29. "To this end, current dietary guidelines published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture state that moderate coffee consumption (three to five cups a day or up to 400 mg/day of caffeine) can be incorporated into healthy eating patterns."
In October, the OEHHA filed a request to disqualify Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle, claiming the judge was too biased to oversee a subsequent lawsuit that challenged proposed exempt of coffee from warning labels. That same month, a California appeals court stayed a third phase of a trial scheduled to be heard before Berle that also questioned whether coffee should carry a warning label.
While the OEHHA's conclusions appear to resolve the question whether coffee should carry a warning label in California, questions about lawsuits spawned by Prop 65 remain. California remains the No. 1 "judicial hellhole" on American Tort Reform Association's annual list in part because of the state remains "a magnet for class actions targeting food and beverage marketing."
Quirk said he has kept his ear to the ground about concerns over Prop 65.
"As chair of the Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee, I have had a chance to speak to activists, businesses and stakeholders about Proposition 65," he said. "My takeaway is that everyone recognizes that complying with Proposition 65 is the right thing to do. We have to continue to do our part to ensure that we are helping retailers and manufacturers proactively comply and not rely solely on punitive action."
Quirk added that he is rather uniquely placed among lawmakers to understand litigation concerns about Prop. 65.
"As a scientist, I believe that all decisions regarding what chemicals to add to the Proposition 65 list should be made using the best available science," he said. "I also recognize that it has been more than 30 years since voters enacted Proposition 65 and that we should spend time to take a very comprehensive look at it and identify opportunities for reform. However, I also recognize, having authored bills in this subject area, that it's a tall order."