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Who Cares For A Green Latte at Starbucks?

Environmentalists are demanding that Starbucks serve you what they ordered—and that you pay more for it too.

By David Holcberg
(April 9, 2001)

[CAPITALISM MAGAZINE.COM] On March 20th, environmentalist activists besieged Starbucks cafes all over the country. Their goal? To impose on the company, and on us, coffee lovers, their own idea of which ingredients should go into our lattes and cappuccinos.

This latest campaign, organized by the Organic Consumers Association, is representative of three recurring themes of environmentalists' activism: their anti-capitalist ideology, their anti-reason approach, and their anti- technology obsession.

Greens' hatred of capitalism readily shows in their choice of successful businesses as their preferred victims. Starbucks, with 3,500 retail locations serving over one million satisfied customers every day, neatly fits their target profile. Even though Greens have a really poor understanding of capitalism, they know enough about it to grasp that there is no better place to hit a business than its bottom line—which brings us to their first demand.

They want Starbucks to offer Fair Trade coffee—approved and sealed by Greens—as one of their "Coffees of the Day" in all of its cafes. But Fair Trade coffee simply means coffee bought for $1.40 per pound, instead of the $0.35 per pound market price. The idea is to have Starbucks pay four times more than they are currently paying for their coffee and thus "raise the wages and improve the working conditions of impoverished coffee plantation workers." But if Starbucks accedes to this economically insane demand, it will have to raise its prices or go out of business. Either way, less coffee will be sold and fewer coffee workers will have a job. And of course, you will have to dig a bit deeper into your pocket for your morning latte.

Their second demand is that Starbucks stop using milk originated from cows treated with synthetic growth hormone. The hormone is widely used in dairy farms to increase milk production. Greens claim that milk from treated cows is "often associated with higher risks for cancer in humans" and "likely to contain more pus and bacteria" than "organic" milk.

They are lying.

This time there isn't even junk science to hide behind. In this sense this case exposes the Greens characteristic anti-reason approach of replacing reality with their ideological agenda. It also shows their customary technique of using lies to attack their victims and to instill fear in people. This is why they accuse all man-made products and processes of causing all manner of cancers. The more fear, the better.

The truth is that milk from treated cows is identical to milk from untreated ones. Growth hormone itself is naturally present in all cows. According to the FDA, the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, and the National Institutes of Health, there is nothing to fear from the milk Starbucks uses, which is the same milk we find in our supermarkets, and drink at home. Again, if the Greens have their way, you will have to scratch the bottom of your wallet to afford your next frothy cappuccino.

The Greens final demand (for now) is that Starbucks stop using genetically engineered (GE) products and commit to abstain from using them forever. Here we see the naked nature of the Greens' anti-technology mentality. They don't actually reject the new foodstuffs because they are, or may be, unsafe—they reject them on principle. They assert that GE products are dangerous without any evidence to back their stand. All they say is that GE products may cause some harm at an indeterminate time in the future. This kind of claim is plainly arbitrary, based only on fear and ignorance—not knowledge.

Unfortunately, Starbucks has been appeasing its enemies instead of denouncing them. It first budged under Green pressure last October, and started offering Fair Trade coffee in its stores. This March, still unsatisfied, Greens said offering it wasn't enough, and demanded the "brewing, highlighting, and promoting" of Fair Trade as one of their "Coffees of the Day." Starbucks has already conceded and agreed to the demand. Starbucks vice-president David Olsen explained: "[Fair Trade] is consistent with our values."

Starbucks has also given way to the demand that they use "organic" milk. Starbucks' CEO, Orin Smith, in an attempt to stop Greens from picketing his cafes, promised them "the choice of growth hormone-free milk by late this summer," and "ultimately…to offer all of our milk products hormone-free." The Greens went ahead with the protests anyway.

As to the demand to stop using genetically engineered products and to commit to never use them in the future, Starbucks hasn't conceded—yet.

Starbucks' Orin Smith has not learned that it is a huge mistake to appease the Greens, and has even established a "major partnership" with Conservation International, an environmentalist organization that operates in third world countries. None of that stopped his Green friends of calling his business "Frankenbuck$." Smith has already lost control over his choice of products and suppliers. Worst of all, he lost the moral ground by compromising his independence at the helm of his business. If he keeps charting the course determined for him by the Greens, he will loose much more than that. He will lose all of his customers who, like me, couldn't care less for a Green latte.

This article first appeared in CAPITALISM MAGAZINE ( on April 9, 2001.

© 2001 Capitalism Magazine. All Rights Reserved.