Responding quickly to a landmark court ruling requiring coffee sold in the state to bear a Proposition 65 warning label, California has initiated a proposed rulemaking to clarify that exposure to acrylamide and other chemicals “created by and inherent in the roasting of coffee beans and brewing of coffee” do not pose a significant risk of cancer. Given the widespread criticism, and even outright mockery, of the need to place a cancer warning label on a product for which there is no evidence of increased cancer risk, the state’s action is a politically astute move. Arguably, it is a much needed regulatory adjustment to save the Prop 65 program from one of its worst public excesses, and the proposal explicitly recognizes the benefit of “helping to avoid cancer warnings for chemicals in coffee” that do not actually pose a risk.

In support of the proposal, posted today, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) relies on the findings of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the only Proposition 65 authoritative body to have evaluated coffee, that “coffee consumption is not classifiable as to its overall carcinogenicity and is associated with reduced risk of certain cancers in humans.” (For “IARC watchers,” there is some irony in California relying on the findings of that body, the subject of much deserved recent criticism, to take a deregulatory action.) While acknowledging that coffee is a mixture that contains a wide range of potentially carcinogenic substances, OEHHA finds that “abundant data on coffee show that the carcinogens in this particular mixture should be viewed differently” than other complex mixtures, such as cigarette smoke and diesel exhaust, for which warnings are required.

The proposed rule would adopt a new Section 25704 to the Prop 65 regulations, entitled “Exposures to Listed Chemicals in Coffee Posing No Significant Risk” and stating simply: “Exposures to listed chemicals in coffee created by and inherent in the processes of roasting coffee beans or brewing coffee do not pose a significant risk of cancer.”

Of course, the regulation, if adopted, does not address exposures to chemicals that are intentionally added to coffee or are present as contaminants through a means other than the inherent process of roasting coffee beans or brewing coffee.

Comments on the proposal are due by August 30 and a public hearing will be held in Sacramento on August 16. Further information on the proposed rulemaking can be found at: https://oehha.ca.gov/proposition-65/crnr/proposed-adoption-new-section-under-article-7-no-significant-risk-levels-section.