- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2001

Starbucks surrendered this week to extortion by some of the very same anti-technology extremists who supported the multimillion-dollar vandalism of the gourmet coffee retailer's hometown and several of its storefronts during the 1999 Seattle WTO riots.

You might call it "Battered Socially Responsible Company Syndrome." Starbucks brags about its record of "environmental leadership," yet is now a punching bag for the groups it tries to appease.

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But something more sinister is occurring.

The Organic Consumers Association threatened to damage Starbuck's "worldwide reputation and profitability" unless the company stopped using milk from cows supplemented with synthetic bovine growth hormone.

The action is part of OCA's campaign to drive off the market non-organic foods and beverages, especially those produced through genetic engineering and other modern technologies.

OCA claims hormone supplementation damages the health of dairy cows and that milk from supplemented cows increases cancer risk in humans. According to experts, both claims are untrue.

CEO Orin Smith said he was more concerned about public perception than health concerns and announced Starbucks would stop serving milk from supplemented cows five days ahead of OCA's scheduled attack.

OCA launched its scheduled attack against "Frankenbucks" anyway, staging protests in more than 100 cities where Starbucks has retail outlets. Not only does Starbucks' cave-in encourage the organic thugs to strong-arm other businesses, but also it harms consumers and the environment.

Bovine growth hormones are present in all cows, even those on organic farms. Milk from supplemented cows is chemically indistinguishable from milk produced by non-supplemented cows, according to the Food and Drug Administration. This is no surprise. Supplementation only helps cows produce more, not different milk.

Recent research indicated supplemented cows are as healthy as non-supplemented cows.

Dairy producers who use these supplements produce as much as 15 percent more milk with the same number of cows. In addition to higher productivity for dairy farmers, use of bovine growth hormone means less water, land and fuel will be used.

The dairy industry estimates that producing 10 percent more milk with the same number of cows (based on the 1996 milk supply of 19 billion gallons) saves: 180 billion gallons per year of water, the annual usage of 700,000 U.S. homes; 1.7 million acres of land, an area one-third the size of new Jersey; and 150 million gallons per year of fuel, the annual consumption of 240,000 U.S. homes.

The same increase in milk productivity also reduces: annual manure production by 0.9 metric tons; soil loss by 5.3 million tons per year, one percent of U.S. soil loss, and (for global warming worry-worts) greenhouse gas emissions by 4.9 million tons per year, about 0.2 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Milk production isn't the only area where organic farming comes up short against new technology.

Modern high-yielding farming is the subject of an article titled "Urban myths of organic farming," published in this week's edition of the science journal Nature. University of Edinburgh biologist Anthony Trewavas points out, for example, that organic farmers' frequent mechanical weeding of their fields damages nesting birds, worms and invertebrates and increases pollution through added fossil fuel use.

In contrast, Mr. Trewavas points out, "A single treatment with innocuous herbicide, coupled with no-till conventional farming avoids this damage and retains organic material in the soil surface. Mr. Trewavas concludes "organic agriculture was originally formulated as an ideology" but for today's global problems we "need agricultural pragmatism and flexibility, not ideology."

Adding insult to injury, organic foods cost an average of 57 percent more than conventional foods, according to Consumer Reports. These higher costs could amount to $4,000 annually for a family of four, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The organic agriculture industry cannot make a compelling case. Organic farming is an ecological, agricultural and economic bust. It's no wonder the organic industry relies on extortion and terrorism.

The bad news for Starbucks is that organized organic crime isn't through yet. The OCA is also after Starbucks to pledge never to use genetically modified coffee or other GM ingredients in its products and to more heavily promote organic coffee. "One hundred percent organic" is OCA's goal.

The OCA is affiliated with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, another anti-technology group. Mark Ritchie, the president of IATP, operates Peace Coffee, an organic coffee company.

Should Starbucks not cave in to OCA's demands, Starbucks might reasonably worry about a visit from yet another group that shares facilities with IATP Earth First, The eco-sabotage group is under investigation by the FBI for acts property destruction costing tens of millions of dollars.

Starbucks should wake up and smell its own coffee before it gets an offer it can't refuse.

Steven Milloy is an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and publishes JunkScience.com.

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