Why Does Nanny-State California Hate Coffee So Much?

Last week, a judge in California sided with the Council for Education and Research on Toxics, which had filed a lawsuit in 2010 against establishments that sell coffeeStarbucks, gas station vendors, convenience stories like 7-Eleven, and so forthto tack on a warning to their coffee (not unlike a cigarettes Surgeon General warning) that each cup of java contains acrylamide, a chemical produced when coffee beans are roasted.

This, of course, incited backlash from everyday coffee fans to the National Coffee Association, which made a statement calling the ruling misleading, that it did nothing to improve public health.

The Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT) is a part of the Metzger Law Group, which describes itself as a "boutique firm" focusing on environmental and toxic chemical exposure in California. In the lawsuit it brought against Starbucks, Metzger is described as "a California corporation, acting as a private attorney general, in the public interest.

The problem with its description as the plaintiff? Its overexaggeration of the carcinogenic potential of coffee consumption is in fact a potential public disservice.

To be clear, CERT isnt technically wrong that coffee contains acrylamides (a chemical regulated by the Food and Drug Administration) and of its cancer-causing potential.

In the National Toxicology Report, a cumulative breakdown of toxins and agents that scientists have found to cause cancer and produced by the Department of Health and Human Services, acrylamides are reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen based on sufficient evidence of carcinogeneity from studies in experimental animals (emphasis their own).

What does this mean? Scientists tested how acrylamides have affected mice and rats and have found symptoms ranging from benign thyroid and adrenal gland tumors to benign lung and mammary gland tumors. Those tumors occurred in a higher number of instances than the baseline level, which suggested to researchers of these studies that there was something about acrylamides that was problematic.

Sure, those are serious and damning results to take away from these experiments. But theres three blaring problems with declaring coffee as a carcinogen on equal footing with, say, cigarettes.

First, these are tumors that were found in rodents. While mice and rats are often used in animal experiments for drugs as a preliminary testing ground and model for humans, the fact is that they are mice and rodents, not humans. The way humans process enzymes and chemicals and additives and so forth can be very different and have effects that can vary wildly from what happens in humans.

Second, rodent experiments often focus on dumping one chemical in large amounts into a rodents system. For mice and rats in these experiments, which not only have smaller bodies than humans but also are intaking inhumanly larger quantities of the chemical being tested, that means that they develop irregularities that might not occur during normal human consumption. Theres no doubt that acrylamide can cause cancer in high doses and has been proven to instigate tumors in rodents. The closest link to cancer between coffee and humans was a study that suggested there might be a link between consuming hot beverages and esophageal cancer.

But the fact is that you would have to intentionally be consuming acrylamide at ridiculous, nearly impossible-to-consume doses to even be at risk of cancer. As Popular Science pointed out with the help of a statistician, it would take an adult at highest risk to consume 160 times as much as the rodents in these experiments. Even then, that would still only be at a level that toxicologists think unlikely to cause increased tumors in mice. In other words, solely focusing your entire diet on acrylamide and practically imbibing the stuff cant even guarantee that youeven micecould get a tumor.

Which brings us to the third problem with the acrylamide lawsuit and hoopla around its apparent cancer-causing properties. Its not just coffee that contains trace amounts of itits any food thats gone through high temperatures. That can be everything from fried chicken to roasted chicken, French fries to baked potatoes, those healthier versions of potato chips made out of root vegetables to roasted produce. To avoid acrylamides would require you to avoid virtually any food that is cooked.

The Report on Carcinogens says as much. They point to a correlation between male factory workers at places that process water soluble polymers (where acrylamides are often used) like oil recovery, water treatment facilities, and paper thickening processes. They also think there might be a correlation between Swedish, French, and American women, their diets, and instances of breast tissue showing signs of cancer, but the link was at best weak, and researchers admitted that other factors like smoking could have played a role. A 2017 meta-analysis in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention backs this up, stating the overall evidence suggests no association of coffee intake with cancers of the stomach, pancreas, lung, breast, ovary, and prostate overall.

So when CERT points to the fact that acrylamides are in coffee and back at Proposition 65which states that California businesses with more than ten employees are required by law to warn consumers if their products contain one of 65 chemicals that the state deems carcinogenic, causing birth defects, or harmful for reproductive systemstheres a need to pause and evaluate the real risk of acrylamides.

If were slapping on warnings on a cup of coffee that declares it to be just as harmful as a pack of cigarettes, thats a dangerous, illogical equivalency that results in confusion and fear mongering. Making coffee consumption the equivalent of slurping poison is ludicrous. Drinking a cup or two or even three of coffee will not be dangerous; at best, youre a little less groggy, at worst a bit jittery. But at risk of developing tumors and cancer? Probably not.

The blatant truth is that coffee can never be as violently carcinogenic as cigarettes, and calling it a cancer causing agent doesnt make sense, especially because no one drinks cups of coffee on end and therefore probably cant be poisoned by coffee in any way. In fact, the National Cancer Institute says as much on its website, noting that acrylamide levels vary and that people are exposed to substantially more acrylamide from tobacco smoke than from food.

And there are certainly worse chemicals to worry about than a minute trace of acrylamides in coffee. Remember the trans fat bans that swept the nation about a decade ago? Hydrogenated fats are legitimately dangerous to consume, and the heightened attention given to their near-ubiquity in processed foods and ties to heart disease, diabetes, and stroke were well documented in humans to cause negative outcomes.

But acrylamides in coffee? Nah.

If anything, Proposition 65 and the case of labeling coffee as carcinogenic is indicative of the messiness of food studies, particularly with respect to those that teeter between sin and healthy indulgence. Theres probably no such thing as eating too many vegetables and facing negative consequences. But foods like coffee, eggs, wine, and chocolate fall in a grey area. Theyre lusciously sinful and offer something almost tantalizingly indulgent with their richness, so it makes sense that were always trying to gauge whether or not these foods that bring us so much joy are good or bad.

The messaging, of course, is frustrating. One minute wine is heralded for its antioxidant properties, the next its vilified for its connection to various liver issues. Chocolate is similarly celebrated for its antioxidant properties, but really, who only has one square of it? Eggs too have sparked debate among industry experts who point to the whites as excellent sources of protein and nutrients, but the yolk is one big nutritional question mark.

Coffee is like these foods, hopping back and forth between linked to a 64 percent decrease in early death and its current status as potential carcinogenic. Its apparent benefits address American health epidemics: reductions in developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease and stroke. Its benefits seem universal, linked to longer lives among Americans across demographic and socioeconomic lines, in both its caffeinated and decaffeinated forms. It might decrease rates of breast cancer and liver cancer. Of course, these are results that should be taken with a grain of salt, but theyre benefits worth noting in light of Californias painting of coffee as a demonic chemical.

The point is this: Everything in moderation is a great nutritional phrase because it rings so true. Every human body is different thanks to the complicated gymnastics of genes and environment and chance that make everyones nutritional needs different. Seeking to figure out if a food is good or bad does nothing but muddle the debate; simply put, foods that dont fall into fruits, vegetables, legumes, water, or their ilk have good and bad qualities to them, and understanding your unique physiology and dietary needs will make their consumption either safe or not so much so for you. And its crucial to remember that niche food industries have well-oiled marketing groups that also fund studies and constantly attempt to veer public attention towards the nutritional benefits of food to eek up their profits. Food is, after all, big business.

Which brings us back to the case of the evil cup of java, Proposition 65, and how coffee might become a villain in the state of California. Putting a warning on a cup of coffee is going to not only confuse customers, it takes away from a daily pleasure for the majority of Americans. A cup of coffee makes people less grumpy, more alert, and simply more awake. Its a bonding activity, a much-needed break in our harried world, and an art form whose most ardent fans will compare its roasting and farming and brewing to those of wine. To make coffee a nutritional devil is a step gone too far (at this rate, any foodstuff that goes through some heating for cooking could contain acrylamides).

The bottom line: Coffee is safe. Labeling it a carcinogenic is not.

Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/why-does-nanny-state-california-hate-coffee-so-much

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

San Franciscos Air Quality Matches Beijings

Air quality in San Francisco sank to the level of smog-choked Beijing this week, as soot from more than a dozen wildfires in California’s wine country blanketed the Bay Area.

As San Francisco residents woke up to a hazy sky for the fifth day in a row, the concentration of dangerous particulate matter was forecast to be 158 on the air-quality index, according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. That’s roughly on par with notoriously smoggy Beijing, which clocked in at 165.

The gauge, known as PM2.5, refers to particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers, which can be inhaled and penetrate deep into the lungs. While long-term exposure is correlated with lung and heart disease, Bay Area residents should only experience temporary discomfort with no permanent effects, said John Balmes, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

Lenard Lesser, a doctor at primary care group One Medical, said he has seen several patients with smoke-related complaints, including sore throat and difficulty breathing, at his San Francisco office this week. Children, older adults and people with lung disease such as asthma should stay indoors while the air quality is bad, and wear an "N95"-rated mask when outdoors, Lesser said in an email.

    Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-13/san-francisco-air-quality-matches-beijing-s-as-wildfires-burn