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Give up coffee? Fuhgeddaboudit, say New Yorkers after California ruling

A California judge has ruled that coffee companies must put cancer warnings on their product but on the east coast, caffeine-crazed drinkers arent buying the latest health scare

Asking a New Yorker whether theyll give up their morning coffee during their commute is likely to elicit only one response laughter.

News broke on Thursday that a California judge had ruled coffee companies should carry cancer warnings on their products after an eight-year legal battle with big coffee. Coffee companies, led by Starbucks, had argued that the levels of acrylamide, a known carcinogen, present in their coffee were insignificant and outweighed by health benefits.

But the defendants failed to satisfy their burden of proving by a preponderance of evidence that consumption of coffee confers a benefit to human health, Elihu Berle, a superior court judge, ruled. While plaintiff offered evidence that consumption of coffee increases the risk of harm to the fetus, to infants, to children and to adults, defendants medical and epidemiology experts testified that they had no opinion on causation.

Harm to fetuses, infants, children, adults? Sounds scary. But not to New Yorkers. Three thousand miles away from the California court the reaction ranged from meh to fuhgeddaboudit.

Quick guide

How dangerous is acrylamide?

Acrylamide is hard to avoid. While it is practically non-existent in raw produce, it is found in all sorts of foods that are grilled, fried, baked or roasted. Thats because the chemical forms in the cooking process when sugars and amino acids react at high temperatures. The higher the temperature and the longer the cooking time, the more acrylamide is produced. Some of the most common products to contain acrylamide are potatoes, biscuits, bread and coffee.

In April,European regulations come into forcethat aim to keep acrylamide levels in food as low as possible. Last year, the Food Standards Agency took action itself, and launched apublic health campaignurging people to cut down on acrylamide-containing foods, including crisps, well-browned potatoes and well-done toast toreduce their risk of cancer.But the FSA made clear that the risk was not large. Professor David Spiegelhalter, a prominent statistician at Cambridge University, even questioned whether the campaign made sense, stating there was no good evidence of harm from humans consuming acrylamide.

The most recent comprehensive study on coffee and cancer came in 2016 from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a group of cancer specialists convened by the World Health Organisation. They found that while very hot drinks those hotter than 65C probably raised the risk of oesophageal cancer, there wasno strong evidence that coffee increased cancer risk. As a Cancer Research UK spokesperson said at the time: If you already drink coffee regularly youre probably not increasing your risk of cancer.

California! said Jarrett Boor, an architect winging his way to work on 8th Avenue in Manhattan. They put warning labels on everything. He said it was good in some cases and that the public should know when products are dangerous. But everything causes cancer: cellphones, GMO foods. Im not giving up my coffee, he snorted.

New Yorkers do, apparently, drink a ridiculous amount of coffee. A survey by health data website Massive Health calculated the city was running on 6.7 times as much coffee per person as other cities (San Franciscans, by contrast, eat 4.4 times as many brussels sprouts). Given the amount of joe coursing through a New Yorkers system its little wonder that the citys hopped-up workers dont seem too worried by Californias warnings.

According to a Harvard study, roughly 62% of Americans drink coffee every day, an all-time high. And, despite the fly California has dropped in the nations latte, two decades of research suggests that coffee is good for us, helping to reduce the risk of illnesses ranging from cancer to heart disease to Alzheimers.

One common complaint among caffeine-loving New Yorkers on Friday was that they were sick of the ever-changing buffet of health-related coffee news.

The last public health statement I saw was coffee was good for you. It reduces hypertension, said Marge Wetzler, wearily waiting for a medium iced latte in Gregorys Coffee in midtown Manhattan. Now its bad for you? I just dont buy that. She would, however, continue to buy her morning coffee.

coffee
Dude, Im enjoying my coffee. Photograph: Devon Knight for the Guardian

Whatever, said James Warren, a bike courier picking up a Starbucks between stops. Its bad for you, its good for you, its bad for you, its good for you. Its kinda irritating, he said before dashing out into traffic.

New Yorkers attitudes were echoed 3,000 miles away in Los Angeles.

I just dont think it would stop me, Jen Bitterman, a digital marketing technologist, told the Associated Press. I love the taste, I love the ritual, I love the high, the energy, and I think Im addicted to it.

Lawyer Darlington Ibekwe agreed. Its like cigarettes. Like, damn, now Ive got to see this? he said. Dude, Im enjoying my coffee.

Berles ruling could spell bad news for coffee companies. The third phase of the California trial, brought by non-profit organization the Council for Education and Research on Toxics, will determine any civil penalties that coffee companies must pay.

The potential penalties are massive, if unlikely, with a fine of up to $2,500 per person exposed each day over eight years. California has 40 million residents.

While its extremely doubtful that coffee will face the same kinds of penalties slapped on the tobacco companies, the case does open up the possibility of a world without coffee.

There would have to be an alternative, said Ali Philippides, a product manager at the Daily Beast. Commuting into work with her ridiculously cute corgi, Fig, Philippides was gripping a Starbucks cappuccino and looked a little shaken by the cancer news.

I used to drink a lot of Diet Coke and swapped for seltzer, she said thoughtfully. But could she give up coffee? As she paused to think for a moment you could almost see the post-apocalyptic dystopia of a coffee-free New York reflected in her eyes. Riots on the L train, Union Square on fire a city mad with withdrawal. Fig looked up at her with concern.

Could I give up coffee? she repeated. No.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/mar/30/coffee-cancer-warning-health-california-new-yorkers-response

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