Washington Insider -- Friday

Cancer Warning for Coffee Not Necessary, FDA Says

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

Canada's Freeland Returns to Ottawa without NAFTA Conclusion

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland returned to Canada Thursday to be at a scheduled event on Friday without reaching a final agreement in the NAFTA 2.0 negotiations.

"We are really in a continuous negotiation phase. Officials are in pretty much constant contact. It would not be an exaggeration to say they are working 24/7," Freeland said as she exited talks with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

Freeland would only say the talks were "constructive," noting that she chose her words "carefully" to describe the discussions. "Today we discussed some tough issues," she noted.

It is not clear when the next sessions will be between the top-level negotiators, but there could be opportunities for Lighthizer and Freeland to meet next week while UN meetings are taking place in New York.


Countries to Press US For More Details On Farmer Aid Plan

Several countries are signaling they will seek more information from the U.S. on the $12 billion farmer aid plan deployed by the Trump administration with an eye on how long the effort is to last, if it meets U.S. World Trade Organization commitments and if it will impact domestic agriculture sectors in other countries.

Questions will be coming from New Zealand, Japan, India, the European Union, Canada and Australia, according to notices filed ahead of the Sept. 25-26 meeting.

Questions from Australia will focus on when the U.S. would formally notify the WTO, how long the plan will be in effect, how the various programs will fit into WTO rules and what would trigger the second portion of the package and whether that installment would be under the same efforts as the first installment. New Zealand will seek assurances on the plan being a one-time payment and whether it would take the U.S. close to its farm subsidy cap of $19.1 billion annually.

How the U.S. determined the payment formulas under the first installment of farmer aid payments totaling $4.7 billion is another point of information countries are seeking while Japan and Canada expressed concern the effort will amount to excessive support for ag production, with Canada also wanting to know if more products would be covered under the Market Facilitation Program.

Further, Canada expressed concern on whether the $200 million in trade promotion efforts would be used to subsidize U.S. exports on the global market.


Washington Insider: Cancer Warning for Coffee Not Necessary, FDA Says

There has been a headline-level back and forth in California recently regarding whether coffee should require a cancer warning label. Now, it looks like that won’t be necessary.

In March, a judge sided with a nonprofit organization called the Council for Education and Research on Toxics that argued that coffee contains high levels of acrylamide, a cancer-causing chemical compound produced as beans roast.

In fact, coffee companies didn't deny acrylamide's presence but argued that it occurs at low levels “that posed no significant health risk” and was outweighed by other health benefits.

That argument wasn't compelling to Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle. He ordered coffee companies in California to carry a cancer warning label under Proposition 65, the state's Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act. The law, which requires the state to maintain a list of harmful substances and businesses to notify customers of exposure, has led to both a reduction in carcinogenic chemicals and quick settlements over labels on foods — along with numerous disputes.

Then, last month FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb got into the fight with the statement that "if a state law purports to require food labeling to include a false or misleading statement, the FDA may decide to step in," National Public Radio reported.

Gottlieb added that a large body of research has found little evidence that coffee causes cancer and instead suggested that it might reduce the risk of some cancers: "Strong and consistent evidence shows that in healthy adults, moderate coffee consumption is not associated with an increased risk of major chronic diseases, such as cancer, or premature death, and some evidence suggests that coffee consumption may decrease the risk of certain cancers."

The cancer label warning, he said, may "mislead consumers to believe that drinking coffee could be dangerous to their health when it actually could provide health benefits."

The agency also announced that it had written in support of the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, which had proposed as exemption for coffee companies like Starbucks from putting the warning label on their products.

Of course, advocates of the cancer warning weren’t pleased. For example, attorney Raphael Metzger, who won the court case in March on behalf of the Council for Education and Research on Toxics, told CBS that he was shocked that the state would annul the judge's decision. "The takeaway is that the state is proposing a rule contrary to its own scientific conclusion. That's unprecedented and bad," Metzger said. "The whole thing stinks to high hell."

National Coffee Association President and CEO Bill Murray embraced the state regulator's proposed exceptions earlier in August and also welcomed the FDA's actions. "Now that science has so comprehensively established the facts on coffee, we believe it is incumbent on regulators to give citizens confidence in what they are consuming," he told NPR.

The federal regulator's involvement also received some praise from a leading cancer institute. Dale Shepard, an oncologist at Cleveland Clinic, who said in a tweet, "Whew! My cup is nearly empty, so happy to see the @US_FDA is weighing in with some common sense on the judicial ruling in California that #coffee is a #cancer risk. Best to rely more on the science."

So, we will see. The push to regulate ag chemicals today is much more sensitive to dosage and other conditions of usage than was the case in earlier years when the Delaney clause was in effect and attempted to ban products without regard to degree and conditions of use. And, FDA appears to be using its authority to intervene to establish safe use rules without total bans.

Still, chemical use often remains controversial and disputes about how it should be regulated likely will be encountered in the future, as they were in the past. This is a process producers should watch closely as it proceeds, Washington Insider believes.


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