California Can’t Run on Dunkin’? (Thank the Lawyers)

In the latest case of the plaintiff’s bar using crazy over-regulation to ruin a perfectly good time, Dunkin’ Donuts has excluded California from its online sales of coffee beans and grounds. It’s no surprise given that “entrepreneurial” (read: greedy) lawyers recently sued coffee brewers under California’s unreasonably broad Proposition 65, which requires labeling of any product that contains cancer-causing chemicals. Since Prop 65 allows anyone to sue for an alleged violation—and one study showed that lawyers’ fees eat over 60 percent of settlement amounts—it might as well be called the “Trial Bar Full Employment Act.”

So what’s the beef with coffee? Roasted products, which man has been consuming since the discovery of fire, contain trace amounts of a chemical called acrylamide, which a 2002 Swedish study claimed could cause cancer in mice when consumed in massive doses. That conclusion is in dispute (see below), but assuming it’s right, nobody’s eating 62 pounds of potato chips every day. (The dose makes the poison, remember.)

The fact that peer-reviewed studies in the British Journal of Cancer, in the International Journal of Cancer, and by the Harvard School of Public Health,  found no link between acrylamide and cancer apparently does not exempt national coffee chains (or all the hip fair-trade organic coffee shops of Berkeley) from the wrath of lawsuits. Nor does an FDA statement that “there is nothing that has been shown that this [dietary levels of acrylamide] is a public health concern.”

Dunkin' Donuts might want to stay away: Caffeine itself, a compound Generally Recognized as Safe by the FDA in most cases, has also been considered for the Prop 65 naughty list. (Of course, even water can kill you in a high enough dose. Maybe we need a warning label for that, too.) And the food man has eaten for eons isn’t the only harmless thing that requires a “Prop 65” label; fishing rods and even parking garages contain “a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer.” How long before every online retailer just gives up on the Golden State? 

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