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NCA Speaks Up Against Proposed Bans on Decaf Chemical

decaf coffee

The National Coffee Association (NCA) of the United States last week announced its opposition to two proposed rules that would prohibit the use of the chemical methylene chloride in coffee decaffeination.

Methylene chloride decaffeination — sometimes referred to as the “European method — has been a leading method of solvent-based decaffeination for decades. Its industrial application was bouyed by a landmark 1985 decision by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that deemed the chemical safe up to certain levels in food products.

In the coffee industry, methylene chloride has received renewed attention since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began revising its stance against the production or use of the chemical in various consumer, commercial and industrial applications.

coffee spilling

The first of the bans currently being proposed came to the FDA in January in the form of a petition from the nonprofit environmental advocacy group the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). It calls for an amendment to the FDA’s food additive regulations that would prohibit the use of four chemical solvents, including methylene chloride, in food production.

The second proposed ban comes from California state assembly democrat Eloise Reyes. The proposed state senate bill explicitly addresses the use of methylene chloride in coffee decaffeination. As written, the state law would take effect in 2027, while calling for maximum fines of $5,000 for initial violations and $10,000 for subsequent violations.

The nonprofit Clean Label Project has been lobbying the state assembly to support the bill. That is the same group that in 2020 backed lawsuits against several of the country’s largest coffee sellers that alleged their products were improperly labeled as “pure” despite lab test results showing trace amounts — all within legal limits — of methylene chloride.

decaf bill

While both the new proposed bans would require an extensive series of bureaucratic wins to take effect, they drew the attention of the NCA, whose membership includes many of the country’s largest coffee roasting, logistics and allied companies.

According to the NCA’s own reports, approximately 10% of American adults drink decaffeinated coffee on a regular basis, and “the majority of decaffeinated coffee has been made using the European Method for more than 50 years.”

The group has presented a wealth of scientific research suggesting that drinking coffee of any kind, caffeinated or decaffeinated, results in decreased mortality from all causes, while reducing the incidence of certain cancers and other diseases.

“Banning European Method decaf would defy science and harm Americans’ health,” NCA President and CEO Bill Murray said in a March 8 announcement. “The overwhelming weight of independent scientific evidence shows that drinking European Method decaf is safe and furthermore that drinking European Method decaf, like all coffee, is associated with decreased risk of multiple cancers and other significant health benefits.”

DCN is not aware of any peer-reviewed academic studies that explicitly address associations between methylene chloride decaffeinated coffee and human health outcomes.

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