S. Korean coffee lovers lukewarm about cancer risk

SEOUL • Following a US judge's ruling that coffee companies including Starbucks should carry a cancer warning label, leading coffee chains in South Korea remain blase while civic activists urge caution.

Consumers are divided over the issue, which stems from the fact that the coffee roasting process produces the chemical acrylamide, a known carcinogen.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle said in a decision dated last Wednesday that Starbucks and other companies had failed to show there was no significant risk from the carcinogen.

Starbucks and other defendants have until April 10 to file objections to the decision.

An official of Korea's Starbucks subsidiary said it had not received any guidelines regarding the issue from the US coffee giant's headquarters in Seattle, and the company's operations in South Korea would not change for now.

"Since the case has been developing for eight years and is still not over in the United States, we will have to see what the US headquarters comes up with," the official told the Korea Herald.

South Koreans drank an average of 377 cups of coffee each in 2016, putting the size of the market at 6.4 trillion won (S$7.9 billion), government data shows.

Consumer reaction to the US ruling was divided.

A netizen said: "I think the US court is exaggerating the heath risk of coffee. If coffee contains carcinogen, I should have already died since I drink (a lot of coffee) due to work stress."

Another left a comment saying: "I could always see dark residue from a coffee roasting machine. Now I know that my coffee was made by just pouring water on burnt beans."

South Korea's Ministry of Food and Drug Safety said it had no comment as the issue was not under review at the moment.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 01, 2018, with the headline 'S. Korean coffee lovers lukewarm about cancer risk'. Print Edition | Subscribe