The Sunshine (Nanny) State is at it again. California’s "Proposition 65" environmental fear-factor law, whose main purpose is to “help” consumers by making warning labels so ubiquitous that they have to cross state lines to buy a fishing rod without a skull and crossbones on it, is back on the busybody docket. You may remember Prop 65 from its past hits like Eat Less Fish! and French Fries Cause Cancer (If You Eat Your Weight In Spuds Every Day For Life). Today the food cop legal darling makes its glorious return, with — and we’re not making this up — caffeine.
This morning, California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) made the following announcement:
Notice to Interested Parties — Request for Relevant Information on Chemicals to be Considered by the OEHHA Science Advisory Board’s Developmental and Reproductive Toxicant (DART) Identification Committee: Bromodichloromethane, Caffeine, and Methylisocyanate
Considering the addition of caffeine to the list of supposed poisons covered by Prop 65 could mean slapping a warning label on everything from caffè latte to baking chocolate. For nutrition activists and dollar-hungry trial lawyers (you too can make money suing coffee companies into submission!), this would of course be wonderful news.
Walter Olson of Overlawyered.com once wrote a delightful column for The Wall Street Journal in which he described the "bounty-hunting subculture" spawned by Prop 65 — which may soon be unleashed on coffee cups, diet soda bottles, tea bags, and chocolate bars:
"[L]awyers have sued manufacturers for failing to warn of the claimed toxic emissions given off by brass darts, Christmas lights, hammers, mineral oil, billiard cue chalk, and picture frames, not to mention French fries and chocolate (which are among many foods in which traces of cancer-causing substances naturally occur). One lawyer filed 400 Prop. 65 claims against candle makers, on the grounds that their products emit toxic fumes when burned; the consumer group he represented turned out to have his mother as its only officer."
And just how useful do California consumers find the resulting labels telling them that everything in their midst just might "cause cancer or reproductive harm"? To torture Justice Potter Stewart’s famous line about the Pentagon Papers, when everything is poisonous, nothing is poisonous. And maybe that’s the point.