Coffee beans

FDA Cautions on Prop. 65

Denis Storey
September 5, 2018

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After years of bullying CPG companies with Proposition 65, California might have finally met its match. 

Just last week, the Food and Drug Administration pushed back on California’s attempt to force coffee retailers with a cancer warning label. In a letter dated Aug. 29, 2018, the FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb urged the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessments to exempt coffee from the list of products that should be labeled carcinogenic, even though it often contains acrylamide as a byproduct of the roasting process.

Acrylamide – which in high doses has been linked to cancer in animals – is a naturally occurring chemical generated in high-temperature cooking, whether from roasting, baking, or frying.

The FDA’s objection stems from its belief that “requiring a cancer warning on coffee, based on the presence of acrylamide, would be more likely to mislead consumers than to inform them.”

Gottlieb further argues that “we strongly support exempting coffee from a cancer warning. The scientific community has conducted a substantial amount of research on the issue of whether coffee causes cancer, and the totality of that research has found inadequate evidence to establish that coffee causes cancer and suggests that coffee may even reduce the risk of some cancers.”

For consultants like Gina Reo, it’s about time someone stood up to California and its Quixotic food safety crusade. Reo is president of Quality Assurance Strategies in the New York area, a private consulting firm for the food and beverage industry, focusing on global food safety and quality. 

“The thing that has changed is the number of added Prop. 65 chemicals – more than 900 – that don’t align with other federal and global regulators’ standards and certainly aren’t backed by thorough science,” Reo says. 

Reo points out that aggressive states, such as California, run the risk of confusing consumers by slapping warning labels on every food and beverage on the market. It’s not unlike the boy who cried wolf, except, in this case, its activist regulators crying cancer.

Reo is at least encouraged the FDA is finally stepping up. The proposed legislation is pending with a broad-based coalition to reel in rogue states with bipartisan support of a National Standard for Accurate Product Labeling, introduced by U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, and U.S. Reps. Adam Kinzinger, R-Illinois, and Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon.

“The industry is at its limit,” she notes. “The door is opening. The FDA would not have even touched this five years ago.”

In the end, what consultants like Reo want is some consistency.

“We would love to see the FDA establish a uniform standard,” she explains. “So, manufacturers don’t have to wrestle with multiple state standards.”

While Reo is optimistic in the wake of the FDA’s letter, she remains realistic, “I think California will be kicking and screaming with the proposed National Standard for Accurate Product Labeling.”

At TraceGains, we stand with the industry against failed, nonsensical regulations that have led to frivolous litigation and increased consumer confusion. In the meantime, we’ll continue working to be part of the solution that helps manufacturers stay compliant.

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