Will coffee cancer warnings spread beyond California?
‘This matter is affecting the whole coffee industry’ says Starbucks in Korea
By Jung Min-ho
Starbucks and other coffee sellers in California must warn customers of a potentially cancer-causing chemical in coffee, following a ruling from a Los Angeles judge last week.
Now the global coffee chain is concerned that the impact of the decision may go beyond the U.S. state.
“The ruling aroused concern among company employees,” a senior Starbucks Coffee Korea official told The Korea Times Wednesday. “But we have not taken any specific measures in regard to the issue, given that the ruling is not final. This matter is affecting the whole coffee industry, not just Starbucks.”
The comment came several days after Starbucks’ China unit said it would ensure it provided quality and safe products to consumers in a response to the ruling.
A non-profit organisation, the Council for Education and Research on Toxics, sued 91 coffee companies, including Starbucks, for failing to warn consumers of a chemical that could cause cancer.
The chemical is acrylamide, which also can be found in some foods and cigarette smoke. It is a by-product of roasting coffee beans that is present in high levels in brewed coffee.
Korean customers are exposed to the same health risk as Californians, given that the way coffee is produced is practically the same. However, a Starbucks Korea PR official said Korea does not have the same regulations that would enforce such a requirement—yet.
Lee Hyun-ki, head of a civic group for food safety, reportedly said he thinks Starbucks Korea needs to review the necessity for such a requirement here. “If any of the U.S. states make efforts for food safety, Starbucks needs to consider doing the same for Korean consumers … They have the right to know about acrylamide,” he said.
L.A. Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle said in a decision that Starbucks and other coffee firms had failed to show that the level of acrylamide produced in the coffee roasting process does not pose a significant cancer risk.
Starbucks and other defendants have until April 10 to file objections to the decision.
The ruling could result in signs being placed in more U.S. states and other countries to warn customers before they purchase. This would be bad news for Starbucks in terms of sales and business prospects.
Starbucks, which opened its first Korean branch in Seoul in 1999, now has more than 1,100 stores across the country.