FDA Considers Ban on Chemical in Decaf Coffee Amid Cancer Concerns

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The FDA is considering a ban on chemical commonly used in decaffeinated coffee, raising concerns about its potential link to cancer. This chemical, methylene chloride, is utilized in the European Method Decaf, a popular decaffeination process employed by major coffee chains like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts.

The Environmental Defense Fund initiated a petition urging the FDA to ban methylene chloride due to its association with cancer in rats. Currently, the FDA is reviewing the petition and is expected to deliver a response within 90 days.

If implemented, the ban would have significant implications for the coffee industry, particularly for major chains that rely on European Method Decaf for their decaffeinated offerings. The potential prohibition underscores growing concerns about the safety of chemical additives in food and beverage products.

Campaigners advocating for the ban cite the Delaney Clause, a 1958 ruling that mandates the prohibition of additives linked to cancer in animals. Additionally, the Clean Label Project is lobbying California’s state assembly to outlaw methylene chloride.

While some stakeholders oppose the ban, citing the potential impact on the coffee industry and consumer choice, several studies suggest that methylene chloride poses a risk to human health.

Research dating back to 1986 revealed that rodents exposed to methylene chloride developed tumors in their lungs and livers. Subsequent studies on humans exposed to the chemical have also indicated a potential cancer risk, with associations found with blood, brain, breast, and liver cancer.

The Impact of Ban on Chemical

The ban would directly affect the approximately 10% of American adults who consume decaffeinated coffee daily, according to the National Coffee Association (NCA). However, the NCA maintains that the health benefits of drinking decaf coffee outweigh the potential risks, citing evidence linking coffee consumption to longer lives and reduced risk of various cancers and chronic diseases.

Alternative decaffeination methods, such as the Swiss method, offer potential alternatives to the European Method of Decaf. However, these methods are often more expensive and less efficient, posing challenges for both coffee producers and consumers.

As the FDA deliberates on the ban, stakeholders across the coffee industry and public health advocates await the outcome, mindful of the potential implications for consumer safety and industry practices. The decision will likely shape the future of decaf coffee production and consumption in the United States.


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