HomeRoast Digest


Topic: NY Times article (8 msgs / 319 lines)
1) From: Gerald Allen Green
Thought this might interest the group It can be found athttp://www.nytime.com/yr/mo/day/news/financial/mexico-coffee.htmlApril 1, 2000
          Seeking a Seal of Approval for Socially
          Aware Coffee
          By SAM DILLON
          OAXACA, Mexico, March 31 -- Starbucks, the world's largest
          specialty coffee company, is deluged with requests for coffee
that
          tastes good but is also good for the cause.
          Thousands of customers demand shade-grown coffee, cultivated
in
          forests that are sanctuary to threatened wildlife. Some want
organic
          coffee, grown without chemicals. Others request fair-trade
coffee,
          produced without exploiting peasants on coffee plantations.
          Satisfying such consumers is a lucrative business. Sales at
Starbucks and
          other gourmet coffee merchandisers have been exploding and
represent a
          fifth of the $10-billion-a-year American coffee market.
          But there are challenges. Who will certify that coffee is
really bird-friendly
          or fair to farmers? And how do coffee sellers avoid a dizzying
array of
          environmental labels?
          At a meeting in this provincial Mexican coffee capital this
week, industry
          experts for the first time decided to impose order in the
chaotic world of
          concerned coffee. Convened by the three-nation environmental
agency
          set up under the North American Free Trade Agreement, 100
          representatives of coffee roasters and importers,
environmental and other
          groups agreed to work toward harmonizing criteria to certify
specialty
          coffee producers.
          The effort could eventually bring a single label, perhaps
"sustainable
          coffee," that would assure consumers the beans have been
produced
          under conditions good for health, the environment and workers.
          "There can be label fatigue," said Sue Mecklenburg, the
Starbucks
          environmental affairs director, who was at the meeting. "If
you pop up
          with a new cause each month, it's difficult for the consumer
to absorb."
          The meeting here focused on shade-grown coffee, an
environmental
          favorite in recent years as scientists have realized the
ecological role
          played by the forest canopy that blankets many coffee farms.
In Mexico,
          where most coffee is shade-grown, forests associated with
coffee
          plantations shelter nearly 500 species of birds and mammals.
          Sweeping ecological devastation has been caused by farmers who
have
          cleared vast forests to plant higher-producing hybrid coffee
plants that
          flourish in the open sun.
          Environmental organizations expressed alarm about this during
the
          1990's, after scientists reported that the number of birds
crossing the Gulf
          of Mexico had decreased by half in two decades. Those concerns
          created a market for shade-grown coffee, but how to define it,
and how
          to certify it?
          Managers at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, a company based in
          Waterbury, Vt., with sales of $65 million in 1999, faced these
questions
          a few years back when they offered environmentally friendly
coffee to
          convenience stores and supermarkets. Green Mountain found
there was
          no international system to certify whether coffees were
produced under
          shade or with fair labor.
          Organic producers, by contrast, have developed broadly
recognized
          criteria, including nonchemical production and natural pest
control, that
          allow several international organizations to certify their
coffee.
          So Green Mountain bought organic, and several of its brands
are now
          big hits. In October, more than 300 Exxon Mobil convenience
stores
          featured Green Mountain's Organic Peruvian Select coffee, and
it
          became Exxon Mobil's most successful nationwide "Coffee of the
          Month" promotion to date, said Rick Peyser, a Green Mountain
          executive who attended the Oaxaca conference.
          Starbucks adopted a different strategy after a conference
sponsored by
          the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center prompted thousands of
          customers to request shade-grown coffee. After finding that no
          organization could certify shade-grown status, Starbucks
joined with
          Conservation International in 1998 to help coffee growers in
Mexico's
          southern state of Chiapas market their crop.
          The project produced only two shipping containers of
"Shade-Grown
          Mexico" coffee. But it was so popular the company hopes to
offer a
          larger batch this summer.
          If coffee merchants face a marketing challenge, many other
American
          companies face similar confusion with environmental labeling;
at least 25
          labels, covering 310 products, are competing for consumers'
attention.
          Canada, by contrast, has developed one green label,
Environmental
          Choice. The government has contracted its operation to an
Ottawa
          company, TerraChoice Inc.
          Last year, Merchants of Green Coffee, a small Canadian
company,
          asked TerraChoice to certify its brands with the widely
recognized
          Environmental Choice label.
          Studying the competing claims made for shade-grown, organic,
          bird-friendly, sustainable, and fair-trade coffee, John Polak,
          TerraChoice's president, found that it took five typewritten
pages just to
          list all the criteria. Nonetheless, he was able to devise a
simplified list that
          harmonized them, and now Merchants of Green Coffee can label
its
          product Environmental Choice.
          Mr. Polak's presentation was loudly applauded at the Oaxaca
meeting,
          an indication that participants will aim for a similar result.

2) From: Ken Mary
Just what the coffee producers need, another excuse to raise coffee prices.
I will only pay for the flavor in the cup, relying on Tom's cupping results.
I will not pay for birds or bugs. But if the end result of converting to
shade grown, organic plantings is better coffee, then that is good for all
of us. If a label is used for charging higher prices for mediocre coffee
then that is criminal. The governments of the coffee growing countries
should take an active part, creating incentives for farmers to use
environmentally friendly and child labor friendly methods, and stop relying
on the USA for handouts.
--
Ken Mary - Mars Pennsylvania - modified Melitta Aromaroast - modified
whirlyblade - French Press
"Nothing works like it is supposed to."
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3) From: Gerald Allen Green
Most of the ripping out of indigenous forest was done by (or at the behest of)
big coffee companies like Procter & Gamble (Folgers) and Philip Morris (Maxwell
House) who want the farmers to plant robustas, which thrive in all that sun and
produce huge amounts of coffee, instead of arabicas.  The farmers will do - as
farmers everywhere have always done - what produces a more lucrative crop.
Never mind that the species biodiversity is halved in 20 years.  Never mind that
chemical pesticides kill  indiscriminately.  I say thank god for the NGOs and
their ability to persuade a firm like Starbuck's to cooperate with the
Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (even though it's companies like Starbuck's
and Peet's that drove me into roasting my own).  It was to avoid the USA
"handouts" about which you complain  that caused our government to subsidize
Montrose, the manufacturer of DDT, and other large corporations who produced
insecticides, to export them around the world.  The world's coffee growing
nations are, by and large, more impoverished than the principle coffee consuming
ones, and to expect their governments to forego export income without any
outside incentive to do so is quite unrealistic.
Ken Mary wrote:
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4) From: Hugh Solaas
C'mon, guys, can't we leave politics out of the discussion, here?  This has
always been a nice friendly little discussion group, dedicated to roasting
and brewing coffee.  We don't need the kind of emotional outbursts this
political kopi luwak  will produce.  'Nuff said?
-Hugh

5) From: JIm Saborio
“The governments of the coffee growing countries should take an active part,
creating incentives for farmers to use environmentally friendly and child
labor friendly methods, and stop relying on the USA for handouts”.
That’s a pretty serious thing to ask of governments of developing nations,
Ken.  I’d suggest you get on a plane and travel to some of these coffee
growing areas (not Hawaii).  You might also suggest that these countries get
better heath care systems and good pizza delivery places too.  One of the
things I like about the “fair trade” coffees is that they promote
sustainable economic development beyond what handouts do.  As far as Latin
America goes, the US has traditionally kept these nation’s governments under
wraps so that US citizens can enjoy a reliable source of cheap coffee,
bananas, t-shirts, etc.  Europe’s involvement in Africa is much more
apparent.  Why not show some governmental appreciation when these countries
suffer disasters and such?
To me, social concerns outweigh my need for songbirds… a fair trade coffee
just has a better long-term after-taste.  That’s not to say that I strictly
buy such coffees… I just find them more appealing.  My father says that when
he picked coffee as a kid (he’s Costa Rican) it was all shade grown.  It
certainly is not that way now.  Look on the bright side… if coffee prices do
rise because all of this fancy-schmancy certification, then Tom will be
forced to sell in eights of a pound… and we’ll only get to have coffee once
a week so it’ll taste so much better!
Don’t you kid yourself…
-JIm
OH… and Tom… your selection / taste is first rate.  It is good to see the
organics, etc on your list because it shows that these farmers can produce
“competitive” coffee under such guidelines.

6) From: drg
Hugh Solaas wrote:
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Does my memory fail me or is this the same person who felt free to make fun
of using the word fruity in association with San Francisco?
   Now that was the stuff they cleaned off the kopi luwak and not at all
related to coffee.  The political economy of coffee production and
distribution is relevant to the future of home roasting.
  Jim Gundlach
    Roasting in a wok
      on a wood stove
        burning oak
          in Shorter Alabama

7) From: Simpson
re: Hugh's earlier post and a dismissive response...
Well I haven't said anything politically incorrect (for awhile) and I, too,
would like this conversation to shift to back channel or alt.coffee. I
understand that this issue is important to you all, but perhaps not to
everyone else... I deal with hot, distressing discussions every day and
would love this group to remain a simple, safe interaction about coffee
roasting. It would be nice if topics containing concepts like 'extinction',
 'pesticides' and 'kill' could be handled in another forum. I agree they
are important, I concur they are relevant to coffee production, but I sure
wish they didn't intrude on to this particular forum... the home roast list
is sort of a quiet and civilized part of an otherwise unfettered internet
and its really nice that way, IMO, of course...
I'm steeled to handle dismal reality when I go to alt.coffee, but ...
Just a thought.
Ted

8) From: Ken Mary
Thanks Gerald and to all who have responded.
I see your point. Thinking about this matter more fully, it seems very
possible that it is the USA (meaning all of us) with our ever increasing
desire to consume, which has forced such environmental destruction. But it
also seems that the governments of the coffee growing countries have avoided
their responsibility to both the environment and their people by permitting
such destruction in the first place. Therefore, being *partly* responsible,
I will make an effort to buy such "Environmental Choice" coffee.
I began my working career, just out of college in 1970, as an Environmental
and Air Pollution Control engineer. I wanted to help save the earth. In my
work and in my private studies, I learned a lot about people and governments
and their roles in environmental protection. Every tree that bears fruit has
some "bad apples". These "bad apples" are the tree huggers, Gaia Mother
Earth lovers, etc, who value the environment more than their fellow man.
They have resorted to terrorist tactics to promote *their* way of life. They
would have us all live as subsistence farmers, with the automobile and
electric power as distant memories.
It was while reading Gerald's post that I saw ghosts of those bad apples,
and I guess some of my anger spilled out in my response. For that I
apologise.
--
Ken Mary - Mars Pennsylvania - modified Melitta Aromaroast - modified
whirlyblade - French Press
"Nothing works like it is supposed to."
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