Is It Time for Starbucks to Stop Milking GMOs?

Although the dairy cows we currently get our milk from aren't themselves genetically modified (yet), they're fed lab-altered grain and feed, primarily from corn and soy, but also alfalfa, cotton seed, and sugar beets, which are among the most genetically modified crops around.

But there are alternatives, and GMO Inside, an organization trying to eliminate genetically modified organisms from the food chain, is targeting java slinger Starbucks (NASDAQ: SBUX  ) in a bid to pressure it to source its milk from organic farmers whose cows are fed only non-GMO feed. 

Source: GMO Inside.

The organization notes that Starbucks is already an industry leader when it comes to sourcing its dairy from farmers who avoid use of bovine growth hormone, as well as using only USDA-certified organic soy milk, which is already GMO-free, and now it wants the company to take the next step and go all the way with the rest of its milk.

GMO Inside has targeted a number of dairy-product companies, including dairy giant Dean Foods and Greek yogurt maker Chobani, which Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ: WFM  ) purportedly dumped last year because it wouldn't source its dairy from GMO-free farmers (of course, the fact that Whole Foods sells GM products from other companies and was planning on introducing its own house brand of Greek yogurt didn't hurt, either).

There's a growing roster of companies that are abandoning genetically modified ingredients, from cereal makers such as KelloggGeneral Mills, and Post Holdings, to ice cream shop Ben & Jerry's and, most recently, buttery spread maker Smart Balance.

Yet as Ben & Jerry's has found out, it's not so simple to source GMO-free dairy products because of the pervasiveness of GM-tainted feed. Because it's also committed to sourcing its dairy locally, as it has for the past 30 years, the 460 family farmers that comprise the St. Albans dairy cooperative have found it difficult to get GMO-free feed. More than 85% of all corn grown in the U.S. and 94% of all soy is genetically modified. Monsanto  (NYSE: MON  ) , Dow Chemical  (NYSE: DOW  ) , and DuPont  (NYSE: DD  ) control 80% of the corn seed and some 70% of the soy. In fact, 98% of GM soy and 49% of GM corn is used to feed livestock and poultry.

Of course, once a company begins the process of alternative sourcing, it can't expect that that will fully satisfy those looking for complete elimination. When General Mills announced that its original Cheerios cereal would go GMO-free, GMO Inside immediately launched a new effort to have Honey Nut Cheerios begin using non-GM ingredients, too. Yet the pressure also prevents companies from engaging in a form of greenwashing, doing just enough to silence critics but no more.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has been a leading figure in an enhanced form of business ethics, perhaps not as pious as the conscious capitalism as espoused by Whole Foods co-CEO John Mackey but certainly respectable nonetheless and likely willing to adopt such goals as eliminating GM dairy for its supply chain if enough customers joined in.

The rate of growth in the number of GM crops planted in developed countries seems to be slowing. It was up less than 1% in the U.S., and actually decreased in Canada and South Africa (Asia, however, seems to be on the rise). As more companies drop these ingredients from their products, more farmers will turn away from growing them, and the leveling out will turn into a decline, something GMO-free proponents hope can be achieved one cup of coffee at a time.

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  • Report this Comment On March 05, 2014, at 10:21 PM, slimdan wrote:

    GMO products are not in any way, shape or form dangerous. GMO products have saved many lives all across the world with the alterations made for disease resistance, greater yield and lower water usage. With the world population still expanding at a great rate...GMO's will be part of the answer to feed the world population.

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 4:39 AM, prevention wrote:

    GMO crops have never been tested on humans for safety and animal studies have shown increased gut inflammation and cancer rates. GMO crops also lead to increased use of herbicides. If you stop to think, modifying food to actually be a pesticide itself means that the food you are eating is a pesticide. How could that be harmless?

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 10:51 AM, nathanp wrote:

    "If you stop to think" needs to stop and think. GMO crops are not modified to "actually be a pesticide." That, of course, would be harmful--but as it's not true, the most harmful aspect of this situation is the widespread misinformation and fear-mongering promoted by those who don't bother with facts and evidence. GMO crops aren't only safe, they're necessary.

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 11:31 AM, dgy wrote:

    GMOs anonymous meeting next week

    That's right, if you also took Flintstones vitamins as a kid (or almost any other brand), we're here to support and nurture each other through these difficult times. No more hiding in shame - you have a friend!

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 12:16 PM, Weitzhuis wrote:

    @prevention, got chocolate? Bt in GMO's kills specific insects. It is harmless to us becuase we are not those insects. By your logic any agent that kills anything is harmful to us in any way it is used. Like water. It kills by suffacation.

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 12:19 PM, Weitzhuis wrote:

    I'm going in to tell Starbucks that i fully support their supply chain as it is currently configured. Their present creamers and sweeteneers are the best !

    So there !

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 12:23 PM, gskinner75006 wrote:

    Starbucks will sell you whatever you will buy. No more, no less.

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 1:35 PM, Jason1 wrote:

    @Prevention - Please... those studies have been retracted and shown to have been junk science many times over. How is it that you still use those as evidence?? And you can easily go tot he USDA website to see a report on ag pesticide use over the past decade. You'll be surprised to see that not only is the USDA reporting an over all drop in pesticide use among GMO crops, but an overall lessening of the toxicity of herbicides used as farmers replaced other, more toxic herbicides with glyphosate.

    I suggest you rely more on trusted sources of factual data rather than internet hype.

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 2:11 PM, jrsept1 wrote:

    Prevention....GMO have not been shown to have those effects, at least not in a scientific peer reviewed sense. They have been tested for health effects, anti GMO people often say this, but never offer the testing regime they feel would be satisfactory, and certainly put no skin in the game to do the testing themselves.

    And the pesticide you reference they contain Bt toxin...is the same pesticide most often used by the organic produce industry...so how is it bad, then good ??

    Not sure GMO crops result in increased herbicide use either, they are tolerant to some herbicides, but that just means the yield is higher sicne the crop doesn't die....that doesn't mean more is used. Got data ?

    I don't mind challenging GMO use..but the blatent lying and misinformation spread to achieve their end point is rather sad.

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 3:56 PM, dockofthebay wrote:

    This summary of a report released by the USDA should be of interest to those who talk about improved yields obtained by GMO crops. Remember, this report was issued by the USDA.

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/24/usda-gmo-report-id...

  • Report this Comment On March 07, 2014, at 11:32 AM, getthetruth2 wrote:

    Prevention:

    The FDA, EPA and USDA and MON thinks about the allergenicity when they submit products. If you put a soy gene into corn you need to show that that protein (even if it almost identical to the corn version) is not an allergen and has no chance of being an allergen. There are sequences of amino acids that have a tendency to cause allergenicity problems. These people are not stupid. There have been GM proteins that have been worked on at the research level in companies that have never become products because of this system working even before they got to the agency level. even if only 10 people in the USA had an allergy to something it is quite likely it wouldn't get to market. This is in an environment where Kiwi fruit are one of the most potent allergens but is never labeled and when organic food has actually killed people - should organic food by labeled - Has potential to kill people !

    Maybe people need to refocus their concerns on the higher risks not one of the least risky.

    On the labeling again - the anti-Gm and anti-Monsanto groups have made it very clear that the labeling campaign is designed to destroy GM food and Monsanto as the goal - they don't hide this fact (while they hide the safety facts behind scary lies)

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