Starbucks Faces Pressure to Only Serve Up Organic, GMO-Free Dairy

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A consumer group is urging the world’s largest coffee chain to serve only organic milk sourced from cows not fed genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Now that many large companies, including Chipotle (NYSE:CMG) and General Mills (NYSE:GIS), have taken up the responsibility of removing GMOs from many of their food products, Green America’s GMO Inside is calling on Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) to enter the fight against GMOs.

The consumer activist group launched its latest Starbucks push after it enjoyed a significant victory on the General Mills front, and now the group’s members are calling on Starbucks loyalists to pressure their chain to only offer GMO-free milk.

According to GMOInside.org, the group wants Starbucks to stop sourcing milk from cows fed genetically modified organisms in feed — including corn, soy, alfalfa, and cottonseed — and to use a third-party verifier to ensure that the milk used at Starbucks stores is definitely sourced from cows eating non-GMO feed. In 2008, the Seattle-based company committed to only sourcing milk that is is rBGH-free, or milk free of a growth hormone injection in cows.

GMO Inside wants the chain to take it one step further and offer its customer only GMO-free organic milk. According to GMO Inside, in the current industrial animal agriculture system, most cows providing non-organic milk are fed corn and soy, which are dominated by GMOs. It wants Starbucks to stop supporting those products.

Nicole McCann, the campaign director of Green America’s GMO Inside, said: ”Starbucks already serves soy milk that is organic and non-GMO. Consumers also deserve dairy milk held to the same standard and level of quality. Consumers will put pressure on Starbucks to serve only organic, non-GMO milk. And the reality is that the process Starbucks put in place to remove rBGH from its milk source can be used to source organic milk.”

There is still significant disagreement over the true dangers of GMOs in food and drinks, but GMO Inside claims on its website that the overuse of antibiotics in industrialized farming is contributing to the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, putting everyone at risk. Though the Food and Drug Administration has approved GMOs for human consumption, GMO Inside maintains that GMOs have yet to be proven safe for humans, animals, and the planet by independent long-term studies.

Green America President and GMO Inside Co-Chair Alisa Gravitz said in a statement earlier in March: “Starbucks made the right move in removing growth hormones from its milk. However, Starbucks has sent confusing messages to its customers by stopping short of addressing long-term environmental as well as human and animal health concerns. In contrast, Pret A Manger, a growing and thriving quick service chain, already serves only organic dairy and soy at comparable prices.”

GMO Inside has used Pret A Manger, a popular food and coffee chain based in the United Kingdom, as an example to Starbucks that it is commercially feasible to only offer organic, GMO-free milk to its customers. Pret has even enjoyed good publicity for its commitment to the GMO-free campaign, and Starbucks could do the same. In addition, General Mills was recently convinced to drop genetically modified ingredients in its original Cheerios cereal, and GMO Inside takes a lot of credit for that.

According to its website, GMO Inside mobilized 50,000 people to post comments on Cheerios’ Facebook wall and mobilized more than 35,000 consumers to write to and telephone the company. Now that General Mills is removing from GMOs from original Cheerios, Post Cereals (NYSE:POST) is also removing GMOs from original Grape Nuts. A number of other brands and companies — including Ben & Jerry’s, Kashi, and Whole Foods (NYSE:WFM) — have agreed to phase out GMOs from some or all of their foods. Whole Foods says that it will label GMOs sold in its stores by 2018.

Now, GMO Inside says its Starbucks’s turn. The company’s executives haven’t released any comment as to whether they plan on responding to GMO Inside’s urgings to serve up only organic GMO-free milk, but pressure from consumer activists and their followers might convince CEO Howard Schultz to make a decision soon. Restructuring its sourcing would still not a small task for Starbucks, so we’ll just have to wait and see what ideas the chain is brewing up.

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