The case against killer Frappuccinos

I’ve always loved the state of California for taking actions that force our country to examine exactly what we eat, or how much we impact the environment. I appreciate how they’re able to look at the bigger picture on these issues, without allowing corporate America to bulldoze our health and safety. That’s how we make progress.

I admit they go over the top at times with their product and safety warnings, which are literally everywhere you look… to the point that they almost become background noise.

But if vitamin manufacturers are required to label their products as possibly containing lead — even though the chances are miniscule — then it’s only fair for corporate manufacturers to be held to the same standards and play by the same rules.

So I’ll confess to a certain kind of glee when I read a story recently about how Starbucks and other coffee sellers now have to slap a cancer warning on coffee sold in California.

It’s true — per the ruling of an LA judge. And if they don’t comply, they could be looking at millions in fines.

So how and why is this happening? Well a small non-profit recently sued about 90 different coffee sellers, Starbucks among them, because they were bypassing a California law that requires them to warn customers about possible cancer-causing chemicals in their products.

Acrylamide is the main chemical in question. It’s generated during the coffee roasting process, and there are fairly high amounts of acrylamide in the final brewed product. So in theory, at least, there’s a valid point here.

But you’ll also find acrylamide in a lot of fried foods, like French fries. So I’m not sure why this group decided to zone in on coffee slingers. But if ridding our food supply of unnecessary poisons requires targeting offenders one at a time, then so be it.

Starbucks has kept mum on this issue… no surprise there. But the National Coffee Association (NCA) has suggested an appeal on the industry’s behalf — not least of all because U.S. Dietary Guidelines say that drinking coffee is perfectly healthy.

Now, I’m not here to vilify coffee. I don’t personally drink it, but it does have plenty of research-backed health benefits. (And if anything, the sugar Starbucks puts in the drinks that they pass off as “coffee” is the real threat.)

But at the end of the day, the burden was on Starbucks to prove that the levels of acrylamide in their products were below what would generally be considered carcinogenic — and they couldn’t. So per California law, a warning label is required.

No one is forcing Starbucks or these other retailers to stop selling coffee. And no one is forcing Californians to stop buying it. But if these companies were transparent in the first place, they could’ve saved themselves a whole lot of trouble. I’m just hoping other sectors of corporate America are taking note… not only for the sake of their businesses, but for ours too.

Buyer beware, as they say.