Taking the Gene Food Fight to the US Market Place

March, 2001
by Ronnie Cummins
A publication of the Organic Consumers Association

In this Issue:



"We are very confident that in 2001 there are going to be more biotech acres
than there were in 2000." Monsanto CEO Hendrik Verfaillie, quoted by Reuters
at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland 1/31/01

"Thank you for your inquiry regarding genetic modification of Starbucks
foods and/or beverages. We recognize that this issue is of increasing
concern to our customers... Unfortunately at this time there is little
information available regarding the genetic modification of specific foods
or food ingredients. As you are probably aware, there are currently no
guidelines or regulations in the US regarding the identification or labeling
of genetically engineered products." Starbucks Coffee Company, Customer
Relations, 1/17/01

"As consumer concern over genetically engineered food increases in the US,
we believe Starbucks may face financial and reputational risks from product
recalls or from consumer protests outside your cafes, boycotts, shifts to
other brands, and shareholder protests. This is clearly the case in the
recent genetically engineered StarLink corn contamination scandal that has
embroiled Kraft Foods, Safeway, Taco Bell and other food companies-a scandal
which was brought to light by Friends of the Earth, Organic Consumers
Association, and several of the other organizations signing this letter. And
as you have also undoubtedly noticed, since the Seattle protests at the WTO
meeting in 1999, there is diminishing tolerance among a significant
proportion of Americans and others around the world for transnational
corporations who use the rhetoric of social responsibility and environmental
stewardship while continuing to outsource products from global sweatshops,
whether in the factory or the field." Open Letter to Starbucks, the largest
gourmet coffee company in the world, signed by Organic Consumers
Association, Friends of the Earth, Rights Action (Canada), Center for Food
Safety, Pesticide Action Network, and Sustain, 2/14/01.

Taking the GE Food Fight Directly to the US Marketplace

After several years of preliminary consciousness raising around the GE food
issue, Friends of the Earth, Organic Consumers Association, and other allies
in the Genetically Engineered Food Alert scored a major victory last fall.
Genetically engineered corn, StarLink, had contaminated over 300 US brand
name products (Kraft and Safeway taco shells, Mission Food products, etc.)
as well as much of the entire multi-billion dollar US corn crop and hybrid
seed supply. Not only is the StarLink fiasco costing the industry, according
to Wall Street analysts, up to a billion dollars in losses, but even more
costly to the biotech industry is the fact that the incident has thoroughly
alarmed millions of American consumers; not to mention millions of consumers
overseas whose governments import billions of dollars of US corn. According
to Dan Cekander, a top US grain trade analyst in Chicago, the StarLink
scandal has impacted and 'distorted' the entire global corn export market,
and will likely 'continue to do so for four or five more years' due to the
fact that StarLink- contaminated corn will continue to show up in the
marketplace, as reported in the Latin American business publication El
Financiero, 2/28/01

Now is the time, in the wake of the StarLink scandal, for US consumers and
food activists to go on the offensive. The Organic Consumers Association and
five of our closest allies (Friends of the Earth, Rights Action Canada,
Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network, and Sustain) have decided
to target Starbucks, the largest gourmet coffee shop chain in the world, as
our first major North American corporate target. On March 20, 2001, while
Starbucks holds their annual shareholders meeting in Seattle, we are
organizing 'Frankenbuck$' protests in front of Starbucks cafes in up to 100
cities across the US, leafleting and holding up signs. In a number of strategic cities
there will be press conferences as well This will be the largest coordinated
protest against genetically engineered foods (as well as the largest protest
against agricultural sweatshops) in US history.

Please go to the Starbucks section of our website and check out this campaign.
If you are willing to leaflet or do media work in your local city or community,
please contact Simon Harris, the OCA's national Starbucks Campaign
coordinator at

Starbucks has over 2,500 coffee shops in the US and Canada (3,300 worldwide)
and sells its bottled Frappuccino coffee beverages and ice cream to several
thousand additional retailers and college campuses. Twenty percent of all
coffee shops in the USA are now owned by Starbucks. Starbucks has
partnerships with Pepsi-Cola, Marriott, Kraft/Phillip Morris, and the
Albertson's supermarket chain. In addition, Starbucks now has outlets in 18
nations, making them one of the fastest growing food and beverage companies
in the world. If you live outside the US and are willing to help organize a
campaign in your country, please contact us as well at


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

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 and Mexico. 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. For more information on the hazards of the genetically
engineered recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, see the special rBGH section
on our website.

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.


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 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 approximately $600 per year, less than the annual cost
of a daily Starbucks latte in the US, Canada, Japan, or Europe.

Coffee is the largest agricultural export commodity on the world market,
with 18 billion dollars in annual sales. The US coffee 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 (shade-grown as
opposed to sun grown and chemical-intensive) 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

The only way these campesinos (farm workers) and small coffee farmers can
survive, and thereby preserve global biodiversity, is to get a better price
for their coffee. It is market demand in the industrialized North that
determines how much Fair Trade coffee gets sold, and in turn how many of the
world's 25 million 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.

Unfortunately the world's small shade-grown coffee producers, many of whom
are indigenous people, 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 monopolize and control the world coffee market supply --
in the process forcing their industrial, plantation model of sun-grown coffee 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 30
cents a pound for their coffee beans, a starvation price which is equal to
less than a third of what it costs these farmers to 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.

The world's millions of small coffee farmers desperately need certified Fair
Trade and organic coffee (which provides these small farmers with a living
wage for their coffee beans) to become the dominant force in the 18 billion
dollar world coffee market, not just a tiny niche.

Despite dubious claims that they have begun to fulfill their promises
(dating back to 1995) to improve the wages and working conditions of
impoverished workers on the coffee plantations of suppliers in Guatemala and
other nations, Starbucks has offered little or no evidence of action. The
public relations brochures in their cafes boast about social responsibility,
but they have refused to divulge to international human rights monitors
specifics on where and how they have made a difference.


Some people have asked why the OCA is raising the issue of Fair Trade
shade-grown coffee and social justice along with the issue of genetically
engineered food and beverages in the Starbucks campaign.

It is our belief that 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 concerns are 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. 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 being
used as a tool for agribusiness monopolies to drive most of the world's two
billion small farmers and rural villagers off the land and replace them with
a US-style system of factory farming and industrial agriculture which is
more conducive to corporate profits. When it comes to our food supply;
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. The timber companies, plantation owners, and cattle
barons are waiting in the wings to chop down the remaining forests and
eliminate much of what is left of tropical and semi-tropical biodiversity.

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.


If you are willing to help leaflet a Starbucks outlet in your community,
beginning March 20, send an email to or call

Print the Frankenbucks leaflet from our website:

Go to a Starbucks and ask to speak to the manager. Show them the leaflet and
tell them that as a customer of Starbucks you expect GE free products that
are humanely and sustainably produced. Ask them for a verbal and written
assurance that they will change their policies (i.e. that they will remove
rBGH and other genetically engineered ingredients from their coffee
beverages and their foods; that they will start brewing and seriously
promoting Fair Trade coffee; that they will fulfill their pledge to improve
the wages and working conditions of coffee plantation workers; that they
will pledge never to use genetically engineered (decaffeinated) coffee

Ask Starbucks to show you that the milk they are using is labeled as
rBGH-free (sometimes called rBST). If you order soymilk with your coffee,
make sure it's labeled as organic or as free of genetically engineered soy
and soy derivatives. Ask if Starbucks baked goods are guaranteed to be free
from GE soy, soy derivatives, corn sweeteners, and oils.

If you order a coffee from Starbucks, ask them to brew it with Fair Trade
coffee beans. If they won't, tell them you will take your business

Patronize socially and environmentally responsible businesses and products.
If one of Starbucks competitors is brewing Fair Trade coffee or avoiding
genetically engineered ingredients, give your business to them instead of

Join the Organic Consumers Association and the growing Fair Trade movement
across the USA. Keep Informed by visiting our website:

Call, write, fax, or email Starbucks. Tell them to send you a written
guarantee that they will change their policies on genetically engineered
foods, Fair Trade coffee, and wages and working conditions of coffee
plantation workers, or else you will no longer buy their products.


Mr. Orin Smith, CEO;
Starbucks Coffee Company;
P.O. Box 34067;
Seattle, WA 98124-1067
Telephone: 800-235-2883
Fax: 206-447-3432
email: you can send an email from the Starbucks website:

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.



Despite the latest propaganda by Monsanto and threats of trade sanctions by
the Bush administration in Washington, the proponents of genetic engineering
(GE) and agricultural globalization find themselves on the defensive. In
recent issues of BioDemocracy News, posted at, we
report that:

Evidence is mounting of the hazards of GE food to human health and the

Global acreage devoted to GE crops is decreasing.

Export markets for (US, Canada, and Argentina) GE-tainted soybeans, canola,
and corn are shutting down.

GE potatoes and tomatoes have been, for all practical purposes, pulled off
the market.

Lawsuits and shrinking profits have forced the giant pharmaceutical and
chemical companies to spin off their agbiotech divisions.

And, most important of all, public pressure and well organized
anti-corporate campaigns have forced many of the world's largest food
corporations, supermarkets, fast-food chains, and animal feed companies to
remove gene-altered ingredients from their brand-name products.

Mass resistance to Frankenfoods, first made evident in Europe in 1996-98,
has now become a global phenomenon. Consumer rejection of GE foods, in turn,
is fueled by a growing distrust of government bureaucrats and industry
scientists and ever-escalating food safety concerns over antibiotic
resistance, pesticide residues, salmonella, e-coli, campylobachter,
listeria, and hormone disruptors such as dioxin. This crisis in public
confidence has made organic farming the fastest growing and most profitable
component of world agriculture today.

Even Fortune magazine, the mouthpiece of Wall Street, admitted in its
February 17 issue that agricultural biotechnology is teetering on the brink
of disaster. Similar pronouncements have become almost routine in the
business press ever since the "Battle of Seattle" in December 1999.
Increasingly, the global economic elite is concerned not only that the
public is turning against gene foods, but that the whole paradigm of
chemical-intensive industrial agriculture and economic globalization is
being threatened. Wherever the proponents of genetically engineered food and
corporate globalization gather-in Seattle; in Washington, DC; in Prague; in
Davos, Switzerland; in Cancun, and later this year in Quebec and San Diego,
California-there has been and will be counter-conventions, street protests,
civil disobedience, and a mounting avalanche of bad publicity. Analysts
estimate that there are now 30,000 public interest non-governmental
organizations (NGOs) across the world that are fighting corporate
globalization, with agricultural biotechnology under fire in more than 100


Current counterattacks and attempts to manipulate public opinion by the
powers that be seem likely to backfire. The US Food and Drug
Administration's controversial announcement on Jan. 18 that new proposed
federal regulations will not require safety testing or labeling for
genetically engineered foods has set off anger and disgust among American
consumers. Recent FDA documents, uncovered and disclosed by Richard Caplan
of the Genetically Engineered Food Alert and published
in the Washington Post on Feb. 13, indicate that a dozen of the FDA's own
surveys and focus groups of American consumers found massive support for
mandatory labeling of GE foods and 'outrage' that the biotech industry and
their government were denying consumers the right to free choice in the

George Bush's threat on Feb. 23 to levy $308 million in punitive tariffs on
European food and other exports to the US, a move sanctioned by the World
Trade Organization and the US Congress in retaliation for EU resistance to
being force-fed US hormone tainted beef and Chiquita/Dole/Del Monte bananas,
throws gasoline on the fire of the globalization debate. Jose Bove, the
French farmer leading the European resistance against the threatened US/WTO
sanctions has now become a continental hero and a powerful political figure.

Bowing to intense pressure by the Bush administration and the WTO, European
bureaucrats caved in on Feb. 14 and agreed to end their three-year de facto
moratorium on GE crops and food imports. Instead of causing European
consumers and food activists to become discouraged or fatalistic, however,
this cowardly move has sparked renewed anger on the part of the EU body
politic. Afraid of the political fallout from this capitulation, six EU
nations (France, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Austria, Luxembourg) immediately
announced that they would keep their GE moratoriums in effect. Millions of
Europeans are still in shock from revelations that they and their families
have likely been exposed to meat infected with Mad Cow Disease, another case
where the food industry, exporters, and government regulators put profit
considerations ahead of human safety concerns.


One of the most frequently asked questions we get at BioDemocracy News is:
Why is the resistance against Frankenfoods so strong and successful in
Europe? And of course the fundamental question is: How can we achieve this
kind of success in the US and other countries?

A close look at the European anti-GE movement over the past five years makes
it clear that relying on the government or regulatory agencies to stop the
Biotech Express through labeling or safety testing requirements is not the
answer, at least in the short run. The way to get Frankenfoods and crops off
the market is to:

Up the ante through bold and creative direct action, corporate
campaigns/boycotts, and protests in the streets.

Aggressively publicize the emerging scientific evidence, which shows that GE
crops and foods are hazardous to human health and the environment, and a
socio-economic threat to family farms and rural communities.

Use a variety of media-oriented tactics to encourage the mass media to get
the anti-Frankenfoods message out to a mass audience.

Focus on marketplace pressure, by waging a protracted campaign against
individual high-profile food and beverage corporations to convince them to
remove GE ingredients from their product lines.

Talk not only about the problem of genetically engineered food and
chemical-intensive industrial agriculture but also emphasize the solution

Take advantage of the global synergy in the anti-GE fight, the fact that
consumer, environmental, and farm groups all over the world are willing to
take on targeted transnational corporations simultaneously.

The current Starbucks campaign is a powerful example of how US activists are
using these strategies to expand awareness of the health, environmental, and
social justice issues involved in the transition to an organic food supply.
Now is the time to add our voices and bring our strength to this successful
worldwide movement.

End of BioDemocracy News #32, March, 2001 by Ronnie Cummins
News & Analysis on Genetic Engineering, Factory Farming, and Organics or

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