Warning labels gone wild: The ongoing problem with Prop 65

Last week, we wrote about a victory for American consumers after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked a San Francisco ordinance requiring warning labels on soda advertisements. The court said the labels were “deceptive” and “misleading” and violated the First Amendment. This week, excessive California warning labels are back in the spotlight after the Los Angeles Times—the largest newspaper on the West Coast—published an editorial that points out how out of hand the situation has become.

At issue is a lawsuit brought under Proposition 65, which is the state law that was enacted in 1986 and has led to warning labels being slapped on hundreds of products and public places (even parking garages and Disneyland) because they contain any of about 900 substances. The lawsuit would require coffee manufacturers, distributors and retailers to label coffee cups and packaging with a warning that “This product contains a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer.”

So what is the supposed scary chemical? It’s the naturally occurring substance called “acrylamide,” which is found in coffee when roasted and starchy foods like bread, potato chips, french fries and cookies when cooked. The problem is that, as the LA Times notes, the “…jury is still out on acrylamide.” The label improperly implies that the mere presence of a chemical justifies both a warning and the implication that the product itself isn’t safe. California’s mandated warning also disregards two recent studies that found there are compelling signs that consuming coffee helps prevent several types of cancer and ward off heart disease to boot! Are you beginning to see the absurdity of this situation?

It’s good the Times editorial board agrees that warning labels that are not backed by science are counterproductive and do more harm than good. They even admitted they were wrong to dismiss claims back in 1986 that Prop 65 would lead to warning labels being put on every cup of coffee served in California. While it was an innovative, novel and experimental law, the experiment has gotten out of hand as it has played out, and we know now the results are confusing at best and counterproductive at worst.

We recommend you read the full editorial for yourself, which you can find here.

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