This editorial is from the Chicago Tribune:
Warning: If you live in California, your highly anticipated, absolutely essential and delicious morning cup of coffee may soon come with a warning.
A state judge will rule in the next months whether coffee should be labeled as carcinogenic under California law, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Why? Because coffee, elixir of the gods, contains acrylamide, a flavorless chemical produced in the roasting process. That is one of more than 900 chemicals — count ’em, 900 — on California’s blacklist of substances known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. Under state law, businesses must warn consumers about the presence of any of those 900 chemicals.
The result is a warning overkill. “They should just put the label inside my door so I see it when I leave the apartment in the morning,” doctoral student and recent California transplant Steve Haring told the Journal. “It’s literally everywhere.”
Californians are cautioned about french fries, potato chips, balsamic vinegar, black licorice (which we are happily chewing as we write this), new cars, office chairs, wood furniture … and, oh yes, snow globes and leprechaun hats. Honest.
Whew! We imagine most Californians are cowering in some woodless, snow globe-free sanctuary in a perpetual state of terror over being contaminated by leprechaun hats, new car scents (!) or all the other items that could be invading their bodies and eventually, slowly, maybe causing cancer.
What that list of 900 really means is that almost everything in life carries some risk. Some are large, some vanishingly small. This obsession with risks, many of them infinitesimal, denies the certainty that life is all about risks — how to evaluate them, how to negotiate them. Something, eventually, will get you.
People make split-second calculations about many of those risks every day. Some people may shrug off a cautionary label because they’re skeptical of the science. They’ve seen red alerts — on cholesterol, for example — downgraded. Maybe they consider the warning a dare. (Cigarette smokers?)
Other people have already factored the huge enjoyment and potential health benefits against a minuscule risk. Drinking coffee, for instance, is linked to a lower risk of heart failure, stroke and heart disease.
We support arming people with scientific evidence so they can make smart decisions, not just about food but about other common products and practices
But when government warns citizens about everything, the resulting nonchalance — the dismissive way you rolled your eyes when you read about this coffee alert — means government effectively warns people about nothing. A proliferation of advisories invites people to downplay or dismiss all of them as scare tactics or background noise.
That’s potentially dangerous (Warning! The word “dangerous” implies a super-dooper warning) because some red flags should be heeded. For instance, black box labels on potentially hazardous medications.
But many other alerts invite a chuckle. Forbes Magazine listed the 24 dumbest but genuine warning labels, including howlers like: “DANGER: Do not hold the wrong end of the chainsaw.” And this for a Superman costume: “Warning: This costume does not enable flight or super strength.”
For our money, mom’s advice is as relevant as it was the first, 10th and 750th times she delivered it: Everything in moderation. That goes for coffee, rich desserts and … warnings.