Organic Consumers Association

Campaigning for health, justice, sustainability, peace, and democracy
Protest Starbucks

Starbucks, Monsanto, and rBGH

Not-so-light drinks

To satisfy an emerging weight-conscious customer base, Starbucks recently came up with a line of "light" drinks, which, unfortunately, are still heavy by most standards. According to The Sentinel, their Caramel Frappuccino Light has 310 calories - hardly an improvement over the 350-calorie regular version. At this rate, customers are still better off with a 200-calorie Coke. Besides, there is little sense in coming up with a light drink and then topping it with full-fat whipped cream.

Many say that the calories are hardly even worth it. Customers at the forum agree that plain Starbucks coffee is unpleasantly bitter - a result of using low-quality coffee beans. As a former employee explained, the trick is to dilute the coffee in too much water, so that add-ons provide much of the flavor. Of course, you always have the option of a straight brew. Order their plain brewed coffee and you get a bland but healthy caffeine fix. But you get what you pay for.

The rBGH question

One of the first controversies to hit Starbucks was its use of recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), a genetically engineered drug used to increase milk production in cows. In recent years it has been found to have adverse effects on humans, including infections and various cancers. Health groups promptly called for rBGH-free milk in food products, including coffee, and 95% of American dairy farmers have since boycotted the drug. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the hormone in 1993, but it has been banned in Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and all members of the European Union.

Silent treatment

Monsanto, the primary producer of rBGH milk, has admitted to over 20 health risks that the hormone poses to cows. Perhaps the best known effect of rBGH is mastitis, or udder infection. Mastitis produces pus, which then finds its way into Monsanto's milk - and inevitably, into a fancy Starbucks latte.

Considering their prime position in the coffee market, and their high dependence on add-ons, Starbucks could be leading the drive for healthier milk products. But while other brands were quick to shift to rBGH-free milk, the coffee giant's response to the issue has been halfhearted at best.

Starbucks addressed the issue in 2001, in a letter issued to the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). "We recognize that some of our consumers have concerns about the presence of rBGH in milk products," it said. The letter went on to say that rBGH-free milk currently made up 25% of its supply, and promised to make it available in all its US stores by summer of that year.

Unfortunately, not much has happened since then, despite continuing campaigns by the OCA and other health groups to pressure the company into buying rBGH-free milk. Starbucks has promised a measly 37% increase their rBGH-free milk supply by January 2007. By contrast, Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream and Tillamook Cheese, two of the country's major milk buyers, had long stopped offering genetically engineered milk products. Starbucks does offer rBGH-free milk as an alternative upon request, but at an average of $5 higher. 

PART 1 : Bucking The Starbucks Experience
PART 3 : Unfair labor
PART 4 : The better part of the pie
POLL : Starbucks or Starsucks
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