Does Starbucks Coffee Cause Cancer?

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Some scientists believe that a chemical in coffee causes cancer. A lawsuit in California could conclude in a judgment that would support that. Since Starbucks Corp. (NYSE: SBUX) is the primary target of the action, it may have to find a new way to sell or label products.

The Metzger Law Group filed a suit — Council for Education and Research on Toxics v. Starbucks Corporation, et al. — that uses this as its basis:

Acrylamide is an industrial carcinogen which, in recent years, has unfortunately been recognized as a substantial constituent of many foods we eat. In 2002, Swedish researchers published an important study showing that potatoes and certain other foods heated at high temperatures contain very high levels of acrylamide. The highest levels of the carcinogen were found in french fries and potato chips, but high levels of acrylamide have also been found in cereals, breads, and coffee. Subsequent research established that acrylamide was formed by a chemical process known as the Maillard reaction in which asparagine, a common constituent of many foods, when being heated at high temperatures, produces acrylamide.

CNBC reports that the lawsuit “resumed Monday.”

The suit is another example of what companies face because of the hundreds of potentially dangerous ingredients and chemicals in products sold to Americans every day. Some dangers are obvious, as is the case with cigarettes. The acrylamide effect on humans may be harder to prove. However, that does not mean a court will not rule against Starbucks. Such a ruling probably would set off appeals that could go on for years. In the meantime, Starbucks might have to warn customers of the dangers. Certainly, the bad publicity would represent a hurdle for the world’s largest coffee chain.

CNBC issued a long story on the lawsuit. That, in and of itself, creates a problem for Starbucks. It faces the perception that it is doing something bad for its customers.