Starbucks China has responded to public concerns that a chemical in its coffee may cause cancer, saying that "providing quality and safe foods and beverages to consumers" is the company's highest priority.
The statement made on Saturday comes in response to a ruling earlier this week by a judge in California that might see Starbucks and other coffee sellers in the state required to print warnings on their products that they contain acrylamide.
The suit was filed against Starbucks along with 90 other companies in 2010, claiming that they were violating state law by not warning consumers about the acrylamide in their product. Acrylamide is a potential carcinogen that is created when coffee beans are roasted.
According to the U.S. Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, warning labels should be used to inform consumers when a product contains one or more of around 900 chemicals believed to cause cancer or birth defects. Private citizens, advocacy groups, and attorneys are allowed to sue on behalf of the state and collect a portion of the civil penalties for failures to provide the warnings.
There are still a couple of weeks for the defendants to appeal the ruling.
However, the World Health Organization (WHO) removed coffee from its list of "possible carcinogens" in 2016.
Some coffee drinkers say they'll give coffee drinking a second thought after the ruling, while others say that nothing can stop them from treating themselves to a few cups of coffee a week.
CBS News medical contributor Dr. David Agus, director of the Westside Cancer Center at USC, says he believes it is too early to put this kind of blanket warning on coffee.
"When you put a bold declaration that 'X may cause cancer' when there isn't data to that effect in humans, to me it causes panic rather than informed knowledge," he said.
The World Health Organization's cancer agency moved coffee off the "possible carcinogen" list two years ago, though it says evidence is insufficient to rule out any possible role.
The current flap isn't about coffee itself, but a chemical called acrylamide that's made when the beans are roasted. Government agencies call it a probable or likely carcinogen, based on animal research, and a group sued to require coffee sellers to warn of that under a California law passed by voters in 1986.
The problem: No one knows what levels are safe or risky for people. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets acrylamide limits for drinking water, but there aren't any for food.
"A cup of coffee a day, exposure probably is not that high," and probably should not change your habit, said Dr. Bruce Y. Lee of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "If you drink a lot of cups a day, this is one of the reasons you might consider cutting that down."
Here's what's known about the risks.
Start with the biggest known risk factor for cancer - smoking - which generates acrylamide. In the diet, French fries, potato chips, crackers, cookies, cereal and other high-carbohydrate foods contain it as a byproduct of roasting, baking, toasting or frying.
Food and Drug Administration tests of acrylamide levels found they ranged from 175 to 351 parts per billion (a measure of concentration for a contaminant) for six brands of coffee tested; the highest was for one type of decaf coffee crystals. By comparison, French fries at one fast food chain ranged from 117 to 313 parts per billion, depending on the location tested. Some commercial fries had more than 1,000.
Even some baby foods contain acrylamide, such as teething biscuits and crackers. One brand of organic sweet potatoes tested as having 121 parts per billion.
The "probable" or "likely" carcinogen label is based on studies of animals given high levels of acrylamide in drinking water. But people and rodents absorb the chemical at different rates and metabolize it differently, so its relevance to human health is unknown.
A group of 23 scientists convened by the WHO's cancer agency in 2016 looked at coffee - not acrylamide directly - and decided coffee was unlikely to cause breast, prostate or pancreatic cancer, and that it seemed to lower the risks for liver and uterine cancers. Evidence was inadequate to determine its effect on dozens of other cancer types.
No one knows exactly how or when coffee was discovered, though there are many legends about its origin. The 2 most common legends that you will hear is that coffee was either discovered in Ethiopia or Yemen.
In this short bog, I will just summarize the most common legend, which is from Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian legend goes like this…..
Kaldi, an Abyssinian goat herder from Kaffa, was herding his goats through a highland area near a monastery. He noticed that they were behaving very strangely that day, and had begun to jump around in an excited manner, bleating loudly and practically dancing on their hind legs.
He found that the source of the excitement was a small shrub with bright red berries. Curiosity took hold and he tried the berries for himself.
Like his goats, Kaldi felt the energizing effects of the coffee cherries. After filling his pockets with the red berries, he rushed home to his wife, and she advised him to go to the nearby monastery in order to share these “heaven sent” berries with the monks.
Upon arrival at the monastery, Kaldi’s coffee beans were not greeted with elation, but with disdain. One monk called Kaldi’s bounty “the Devil’s work” and tossed it into a fire.
However, according to legend, the aroma of the roasting beans was enough to make the monks give this novelty a second chance. They removed the coffee from the fire, crushed them to put out the glowing embers and covered them with hot water in an ewer to preserve them.
All the monks in the monastery smelled the aroma of the coffee and came to try it.
These monks found that coffee’s uplifting effects were beneficial in keeping them awake during their spiritual practice of prayers and holy devotions. They vowed that from then on they would drink this newfound beverage each day as an aid to their religious devotions.
However, this story did not appear in writing until A.D. 1671. It is generally considered to be apocryphal rather than a true history of coffee’s origin.
In the 16th century, the Middle East coveted coffee and deemed it a holy beverage. Due to coffee’s popularity, coffee plants and beans became a major export, but the process took ages and was rather expensive. To cut out the middle man, many countries smuggled coffee into Italy and other parts of Europe. Talk about some risky business for a bitter drink.
Coffee needs nice warm climate to flourish. The French territory in the 1700s named coffee as their own and forced natives of the Dominican Republic into slavery to supply most of the world with coffee. This was known as the Haitian Revolution and due to the overkill in their coffee crops, the Dominican Republic didn’t recover until 1940s and still hasn’t reestablished their name as the number one coffee exporter.
Still today, many developing countries rely on coffee as their cash crop and supports the economy of countries such as Uganda and Ethiopia. Today, the US alone consumes 971,000 tones of coffee annually.