s/r home  | issues  | authors  | 25 contents

Synthesis/Regeneration 25   (Summer 2001)

Biodevastation: Why Target Starbucks?


by Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Association

Why Target Starbucks?
The GE Food Issue

Despite rising consumer concerns, Starbucks stubbornly refuses to guarantee that the milk, chocolate, ice cream, and baked goods they are selling are free of recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) and other genetically engineered ingredients (including soy derivatives and corn sweeteners). Starbucks needs to get rid of all GE food ingredients and label its packaged or bottled products as being GE-free.

Several thousand Starbucks outlets are still using milk coming from dairies that allow cows to be injected with Monsanto's controversial Bovine Growth Hormone, a hormone often associated with higher risks for cancer in humans. rBGH is a powerful drug, which cruelly damages the health of dairy cows, forcing them to give more milk. Milk from rBGH-injected cows is also likely to contain more pus, antibiotic residues, and bacteria. Monsanto's rBGH is banned in every industrialized country in the world except for the United States. Starbucks is one of the largest buyers of rBGH-tainted milk in the world. Labeling its bottled coffee beverages and ice cream, which are sold in thousands of retail stores, as rBGH-free will send a powerful message to Monsanto and the dairy industry that consumers want rBGH taken off the market.

Starbucks is one of the largest buyers of rBGH-tainted milk in the world.

Although biotechnology corporations are currently field-testing genetically engineered decaffeinated coffee beans, Starbucks has not taken a public stand on whether or not it intends to purchase these genetically engineered coffee beans in the future.

Why Target Starbucks?
Environmental and Social Justice Issues

Although Starbucks has recently bowed to consumer pressure and begun selling certified Fair Trade, shade-grown (organic or transition to organic) coffee beans in bulk, they are refusing to brew and seriously promote Fair Trade coffee, unlike a number of other gourmet coffee shops and companies.

Only shade-grown or organic coffee, which avoids the use of the use of toxic pesticides and chemical fertilizers, protects the environment and preserves the forest canopy and the priceless biodiversity of plants and animals (including migratory songbirds). All coffee certified as Fair Trade or organic is shade-grown, as opposed to corporate plantation coffee, which is grown out in the direct sunlight, utilizing pesticides and chemical fertilizers, typically on large plantations where the surrounding forest cover has been completely chopped down. Wages paid to impoverished farm workers on the typical sun-grown coffee plantations supplying Starbucks and other large coffee buyers average out to approximately $600 per year, less than the annual cost of a daily Starbucks latte in the US, Canada, Japan, or Europe.

Only shade-grown or organic coffee, which avoids the use of the use of toxic pesticides and chemical fertilizers, protects the environment...

Coffee is the largest agricultural export commodity on the world market, with 18 billion dollars in annual sales. The total US import market, the largest in the world, totals almost four billion dollars. Coffee is a widely cultivated crop that can readily be converted to or maintained as 100% shade-grown and organic. It is the most important export of dozens of developing nations, including Mexico and the nations of Central America. There are 25 million, mainly small, coffee farmers left in the world, most of whom are growing coffee in a sustainable and organic manner. Many of these indigenous and small farmers, who inhabit the most biologically diverse and fragile areas of the world (the mountains and rainforests of Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Guatemala for example), are trying to make a living in the face of intense economic exploitation, racial discrimination, and government repression.

The only way these campesinos (farmworkers) and small coffee farmers can survive, and thereby preserve global biodiversity, is to get a better price for their coffee, which the Fair Trade coffee movement provides. However it is market demand in the industrialized North that determines how much Fair Trade coffee gets sold, and in turn how many coffee growers can be enrolled in Fair Trade cooperatives and programs. Because companies like Starbucks and institutional food vendors like Sysco are not brewing, seriously selling, and heavily promoting Fair Trade coffee, most coffee sold today is sun-grown, plantation coffee. Only 550,000 or 2% of the world's coffee growers now benefit from being part of the Fair Trade movement. We need to increase this percentage, as quickly as possible, or else indigenous and rural communities across the global South and tropical biodiversity will perish. Analysts estimate that as many as 50% of shade-grown coffee producers in countries like Mexico will abandon production over the next few years unless market demand for Fair Trade coffee increases dramatically.

...50% of shade-grown coffee producers will abandon production over the next few years unless market demand for Fair Trade coffee increases...

Unfortunately the world's small, shade-grown coffee producers are being forced out of business and off the land by a ruthless global coffee cartel determined to drive down the prices paid to coffee farmers and control the world coffee market, in the process forcing their industrial model on the entire world. Currently four food giants basically control the world's coffee supply: Procter and Gamble (Folgers); Kraft/Phillip Morris (Maxwell House); Sarah Lee (European brands); and Nestle (Hills Brothers). Buyers for these conglomerates have recently been paying small farmers as little as $0.30 a pound for their coffee beans, a literal starvation price which is equal to less than 1/3 of what it costs these farmers to actually produce the coffee. Fair Trade coffee, on the other hand, guarantees producers at least $1.26 per pound, a price which will steadily increase as corporations such as Starbucks are forced to begin to brew and promote Fair Trade coffee on a major scale.

Despite promises made since 1995 to improve the wages and working conditions of impoverished workers on the coffee plantations of its suppliers in Guatemala and other nations, Starbucks has offered little or no evidence that it has fulfilled this promise, other than to provide public relations brochures in its cafes bragging about how socially responsible they are.

Bringing Together Food Safety,
Environmental, & Social Justice Issues

The time has come to build a broader and more powerful movement against genetically engineered foods, factory farming, and chemical-intensive agriculture. One of the best ways to do this is to bring together people whose primary concern is social justice or preserving the environment and biodiversity, with those whose passion is stopping genetic engineering and converting the world's agricultural system to organic farming as soon as possible. And of course in reality all of these crucial issues are inextricably interconnected. Genetic engineering poses a mortal threat to public health, biodiversity, and the environment, and, in addition, is basically being used as a tool for corporate agribusiness monopolies to drive most of the world's two billion small farmers and rural villagers off the land and replace them with a more profitable US-style system of factory farming and industrial agriculture. Environmental preservation, sustainable development, and social and economic justice go hand-in-hand.

Organic farmers, in this case shade-grown coffee growers, cannot afford to grow the crops that we need and exercise a sustainable and ethical stewardship over the land, unless they get a fair price for their labor. If we allow the global coffee cartel, and its accomplices such as Starbucks, to continue to control the food and beverage choices of the world's consumers, restricting Fair Trade and organic coffee to being nothing more than a small niche market, 20 million small shade-grown coffee producers will shortly be forced off the land, allowing the timber companies, plantation owners, and cattle barons waiting in the wings to chop down the remaining forests and eliminate much of what's left of tropical and semi-tropical biodiversity.

But of course with your help, and the combined efforts of the emerging global movement of consumers, food activists, and anti-sweatshop Fair Trade organizations, we can stop this war on nature and indigenous people and convert our global agricultural system to one that is organic, sustainable, and equitable.

The Starbucks Campaign:
What You Can Do to Help


Telephone: 800-235-2883 Fax: 206-447-3432

Mr. Orin Smith, CEO
Starbucks Coffee Company
P.O. Box 34067
Seattle, WA 98124-1067

go to their website http://www.starbucks.com/ and send them an email.

Note: Starbucks may likely change its email or telephone numbers to deal with the fact that they are being swamped with calls and emails. Send them a letter or fax if you can, or better yet visit one of their stores directly and voice your concerns.

Reprinted from BioDemocracy News #32 (March 2001). BioDemocracy News is a publication of the Organic Consumers Association http://www.organicconsumers.org/

Synthesis/Regeneration home page | Synthesis/Regeneration 25 Contents