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.
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." ---------- <Snip> <Snip>
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: <Snip>
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
“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.
Hugh Solaas wrote: <Snip> 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
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
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." ---------- <Snip> <Snip> (Maxwell <Snip> and <Snip> that <Snip> consuming <Snip>