Five years ago, the Organic Consumers Association had Starbucks squarely in its sights. They were running a “frankenbucks campaign,” protesting the company’s annual meeting and were undertaking an effort to prevent Starbucks from selling or using any milk produced from cows receiving supplemental bovine growth hormones (rbST/ rbGH). Starbucks made the correct decision to not be cowed by the OCA and continue to serve safe and affordable conventionally-produced milk, while offering consumers organic milk produced without the aid of these safe supplements as an alternative.
What happened? Well, Starbucks stores stocked up on organic milk anticipating the huge demand that activists claimed existed. The organic milk, like all national organic brands, was ultra-pasteurized for extended shelf life. Unlike your local conventional, normally pasteurized milk with a shelf life of about 14 days, these U-P organic brands can last weeks. Stonyfield Organic claims their milk can last up to 70 days before the stores have to stop selling it. Even with the extended shelf-life, Starbucks managers across the country reported that they were throwing away far more organic milk than they were selling, so most stores no longer offer it even as an option. The company tells us that the decision to offer an organic milk alternative is now left up to individual stores. Starbucks offers organic soy juice alternatives instead. All of this really puts a dent in the OCA’s “consumers are demanding organic milk” argument.
Yet once again Starbucks is the target of an anti-rBST campaign, this time led by Food and Water Watch, a spin off of Ralph Nader’s anti-corporate, anti-globalization, anti-modern technology, self-anointed protector of the populous Public Citizen. This campaign is being launched on the tattered shirt tails of the animal rights extremists’ Meatrix II: Revolting, which purports to tell the truth about dairy farms.
As Starbucks learned five years ago, the demands of these wactivists are not shared by most consumers. And today we have the activists’ own words to back us up. In a lengthy email chain in response to a question from Michele Simon of InformedEating.org – who refers to Starbucks as “rapacious” – Wynona Hauter of Food and Water Watch writes:
“There were several reasons why we chose Starbucks as our target for an rBGH-free campaign, and none of them were that we thought we could morph them into a model corporate citizen. One is that we needed to focus on a national target that was easily identifiable to the public, would entail a simple action, and had a feasible chance of success. More importantly, if Starbucks switched to rBGH-free milk, it would have a big impact.”
We’ve learned from tax returns and other publicly available documents that the OCA-led wactivist campaign from five years ago was funded by the very same organic dairy industry that would benefit from an attack on conventional milk.
It is shameful, but not surprising that multi-million-dollar-organic-mega-dairies would fund activist scare campaigns to whip up demand for their high-profit, no-benefit products. The Organic Trade Association has gone so far as to produce an online media campaign entitled “Store Wars” demonstrating the aggressive lengths to which they will go to deceive consumers and vilify safe, affordable products to make a buck.
Because disclosure rules for activists like Ralph Nader’s Food & Water Watch are so lax and are virtually un-enforced by regulators, we won’t learn for years who is paying them to attack milk this time. If I were a betting man, my money would be on the same people who funded it last time.
We hope that Starbucks will again see the folly of capitulating to these advocacy group demands and organic industry-funded campaigns. Because as we and Starbucks know, milk is milk.
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