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Cause Coffees Produce a Cup with an Agenda

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  • Clore Daniel C
    News for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo Cause coffees produce a cup with an agenda Shade-grown, fair trade and other
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 5, 2001
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      News for Anarchists & Activists:

      'Cause coffees' produce a cup with an agenda

      'Shade-grown,' 'fair trade' and other eco-friendly, socially
      aware blends of java are attracting consumers

      USA Today
      By Patrick McMahon
      July 26, 2001

      SEATTLE -- Now that you've figured out how to order a double
      tall latte, decaf skinny with no foam, there's a whole new
      coffeespeak brewing.

      Bird lovers want you to buy "shade-grown" coffee to protect
      disappearing rain forests used by migratory songbirds in
      Central and South America.

      Purists concerned about pesticides push "organic" java.

      Worried about impoverished Third World coffee growers?
      There's "Fair-Trade Certified" coffee that guarantees
      farmers a minimum price.

      In this hot spot for boutique coffee as well as in an
      increasing number of cities across the nation, coffee is
      being poured with an environmental and social agenda. The
      big chains, led by Starbucks, are acceding to activists'
      demands that they offer these "cause coffees." While these
      brews are sometimes branded politically correct, "we prefer
      to call them sustainable coffees," Washington, D.C.,
      activist Christopher London says. "They sustain the
      environment, and they sustain the farmers." But there's a

      "It has to taste good for people to buy it," says London,
      who promotes ecological labeling for coffee at Consumer's
      Choice Council. "If you can't sell it, it's not
      sustainable." But many of these blends are selling, with the
      help of environmentalists and other activists extolling
      their virtues and demanding more availability.

      While still a minuscule part of the U.S. coffee market,
      these beans and brews are being sold at Borders Books cafes,
      Hyatt hotels, campus coffeehouses and grocery giant Safeway.
      Seattle-based Starbucks, the nation's largest gourmet coffee
      retailer, now promotes blends of Fair-Trade Certified,
      organic and shade-grown coffees.

      "There is extraordinary excitement with people in our stores
      about things like shade-grown," Starbucks chief executive
      Orin Smith says. Starbucks stepped up its promotion of
      "cause coffees" after it became the target of protests by
      human rights groups demanding that it sell fair-trade

      But many Americans just don't take their morning cup of joe
      all that seriously.

      "At 6 a.m., I really don't care about the rest of the world.
      I just want to wake up," says Seattle law student Jeff
      Yuhasz, 32, who keeps a can of Folgers in his freezer. "It's
      definitely an issue of political correctness." Many
      consumers say they like making an impact with their coffee.
      Philadelphia concert promoter Larry Ahearn, 53, drinks three
      or four cups a day. His current brew is an Azteca Blend from
      Trader Joe's gourmet grocery chain.

      "It's shade-grown, 100% organic, Equal Exchange, Fair-Trade
      Certified," he says. "Everything but Eugene McCarthy," the
      antiwar presidential candidate in 1968. "When I buy
      shade-grown coffee," Ahearn says, "I feel like I'm voting
      for a better environment or a better world." A host of
      worries Coffee is the second most-traded commodity in the
      world after oil, measured in export dollars. It is produced
      in 80 countries in tropical regions, most of them
      environmentally sensitive. The largest exporters are Brazil,
      Colombia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Mexico. The largest
      importer is the United States.

      Fully 80% of adult Americans are regular or occasional
      coffee drinkers. Only 14% say they're daily consumers of
      gourmet coffees -- premium blends, latte, espresso, café
      mocha, cappuccino and frozen and ice-blended coffee
      beverages. But that number represents almost 29 million
      people, up from about 8 million five years ago, according to
      a 2001 survey by the National Coffee Association.

      Today's sustainable coffees -- a small niche of the gourmet
      market -- are not as new as they are newly visible. Organic
      coffees -- once found mostly in health-food stores -- and
      the others are just getting more space in grocery stores and
      on the menus at coffee bars.

      "It's really an emerging trend," says Gary Goldstein, a
      spokesman for the coffee trade group.

      While nothing might seem less contentious than a cup of hot
      coffee, environmental, economic and labor issues abound:

      World coffee prices are at decade-low levels, prompting
      concern that low-paid growers will abandon their crops for
      work elsewhere.

      Tropical rain forests continue to dwindle as farmers
      clear-cut hillsides and fields to grow coffee in sunshine, a
      faster process than shade-grown. Sun-grown coffee also
      requires more pesticides, a greater concern for workers than
      drinkers because processing removes most chemicals.

      Clear-cutting in the highlands of Central and South America
      also is removing traditional habitat for migratory songbirds
      that spend the winter there.

      "Coffee touches so many people, from the coffee plant to the
      coffee cup," says Helen Ross, who runs the Seattle Audubon
      Society's Northwest Shade Coffee Campaign. "People don't
      realize the huge effect on birds, workers and forests."
      Growers in decline No one is suffering more from the fall in
      worldwide coffee prices than small-scale coffee farmers.
      Even Juan Valdez is hurting.

      The mythical coffee farmer who stars in Colombian Coffee
      Federation ads with his sturdy mule Conchita has fallen
      victim to the plummeting world price for beans. Federation
      ads featuring him were cut almost in half this spring.

      But the effect has been far more brutal elsewhere. In May,
      14 migrant workers died in the heat of the Arizona desert
      after crossing the border with Mexico. Half were identified
      as coffee farmers who had left their jobs in Veracruz,
      Mexico, in search of better-paying jobs in the United

      "Prices are so low that we are at risk of having farmers opt
      out, and we will be unable to get the quality we want,"
      Starbucks CEO Smith says. "This is of grave concern to all
      the specialty-coffee people." Suppliers, roasters and
      retailers now have dozens of projects underway in South and
      Central America to improve the lives of coffee farmers and
      maintain quality supply lines.

      Starbucks is working with the environmental group
      Conservation International to improve shade-grown production
      near Chiapas, Mexico. Other retailers on the bandwagon
      include Seattle's Best Coffee, Bucks County Coffee Co. in
      Philadelphia, Equal Exchange in Canton, Mass., and Taylor
      Maid Farms in Sebastopol, Calif.

      Consumers looking for independent evidence that these
      coffees are organic, shade-grown or bought at a fair price
      to farmers need only look on the back of packages in the
      store. Some are certified by groups such as the Rainforest
      Alliance, the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and several
      organizations that monitor organic farming.

      What difference does all this make? Fair-Trade Certified
      coffee, for example, guarantees farmers in cooperatives a
      minimum $1.26 a pound, far more than the current world price
      of 43 cents.

      Fair-trade prices will give the typical Latin American
      coffee farmer an annual income of about $2,000, compared
      with the current $500, says Paul Rice, executive director of
      TransFair USA, an Oakland non-profit group that certifies
      fair-trade coffee in the United States.

      "This is the difference between a small farmer carrying
      sacks of coffee on his back, versus buying a mule," Rice

      The fair-trade coffee movement is growing. TransFair USA
      certified 2 million pounds in 1999, 4.3 million pounds in
      2000 and "we project 9 million this year," Rice says.

      Coffee seems an unlikely focus for rallies, protests and
      benefit concerts featuring Bonnie Raitt. But not in Seattle,
      where coffee is taken more seriously than almost anyplace

      And that means Starbucks.

      Starbucks was founded in 1971 in Seattle and named for the
      first mate in Herman Melville's Moby Dick. Thumbing its nose
      at fast food in the fast lane, it pioneered the modern-day,
      stay-as-long-as-you-like coffeehouse.

      It has grown from 84 locations in 1990 to 4,435 stores in 39
      states and 21 foreign countries. This month it reported $2
      billion in sales for the last nine months -- up 23% from the
      same period a year earlier.

      Targeting Starbucks Starbucks' meteoric rise coincided with
      increasing concern about coffee itself. The same affluent
      baby boomer consumers who liked Starbucks' no-hassle
      atmosphere grew more interested in the content of their
      coffee. Soon after protests against the World Trade
      Organization's summit meeting in November 1999 left downtown
      Seattle trashed and hundreds arrested, Starbucks found
      itself taking heat.

      Starbucks says it was already planning to market fair-trade
      and Earth-friendly brews when members of Global Exchange, a
      San Francisco human-rights group, picketed the company's
      annual stockholders meeting in March 2000, demanding that
      the retailer sell fair-trade coffee.

      Immediately, "I got involved," CEO Smith says.

      Even as it moved to provide more Fair-Trade Certified
      coffee, Starbucks encountered a new group of protesters at
      this year's annual meeting.

      This time, it was the Organic Consumers Association
      targeting Starbucks' milk -- a major ingredient in lattes,
      mochas and other espresso products. The chain's milk wasn't
      guaranteed to be hormone-free. Starbucks said it offers the
      same kind of milk sold in grocery stores, but only 25% is
      guaranteed hormone-free. Later this month, it will offer an
      organic, hormone-free milk alternative.

      In the same vein, activists here have launched a major
      education and advertising campaign to get people to buy more
      sustainable coffees -- of any brand.

      The highlight came in June when recording artists Raitt,
      Jackson Browne and Keb' Mo' held a concert in Seattle to
      benefit the Songbird Foundation, which seeks to protect
      songbirds and their habitat. Nostalgic boomers in faded
      jeans and long skirts packed the refurbished Paramount
      Theater to hear the three mix politics with music.
      Microbrews were everywhere, the aroma of marijuana
      surprisingly faint.

      Browne, 52, his silky brown hair slung over his forehead,
      told the audience to try sustainable coffee: "Being able to
      change our lifestyle just a little will make a big
      difference." The artists were there to support their
      longtime friend, singer-songwriter Danny O'Keefe, who
      founded the Songbird Foundation in 1997 and wrote and
      recorded the 1972 hit, Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues.
      "Quality is the bottom line," says O'Keefe, who roasts his
      own coffee. But by buying sustainable coffees, he adds,
      "consumers can have quality and really make a difference.
      Every cup of coffee makes a difference." Not everybody

      "The average American isn't ready for this," says Julie
      Barrett, coffee director for Dunkin' Donuts. The chain
      recently offered a "French Roast Eco-Blend" in Maine, Boston
      and Chicago but decided not to go nationwide yet.

      "They're not asking for it enough," Barrett says.

      But for some, the message is catching on.

      "Sometimes you'll ask for a cup of shade-grown or fair
      trade, and people give you a blank look, but not so much
      anymore," says Tom Keefe, a Spokane, Wash., lawyer who ran
      unsuccessfully for Congress in 2000. "In the era after WTO,
      especially in Seattle, it's not surprising to see consumers
      asking more questions about the products they buy: Who makes
      it, where did it come from and what's in it?"

      Dan Clore

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