Americans love their coffee. Although it is the most widely traded commodity in the world, more coffee is consumed in our country than in any other country. However, not all coffee is created equal.
You may stand in line at your favorite coffee shop trying to decide what kind of coffee drink you need to excite your senses, but you may not think about where the coffee is actually coming from.
In reality, the source and nature of your coffee really does matter – not only to your health but also to the health of coffee farmers and the environment.
First off, why would you choose organic coffee over conventional coffee? Many reasons. Conventional coffee bean farming uses strong and potentially hazardous chemicals. In fact, conventional coffee is one of the most heavily chemically-treated foods in the entire world. Not only is it laden with pesticides, but also herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, fungicides, and insecticides.
There are some who believe that even after hot temperature roasting, there may be chemical residue in conventional coffee. A number of these chemicals have been linked to animal deaths. In addition, the health risks of farm workers exposed to toxic chemicals are high and have resulted in human death.
So, the answer is to drink organic, right? Hold on… not so fast, there is more to be concerned about. When we purchase organic food, we tend to think we’re making the best decision both for health and for the environment. However, while foods labeled “organic” must forego the use of nasty fertilizers and pesticides, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re employing environmentally sustainable growing practices.
What most health-seeking coffee lovers don’t know is that although organic coffee is one of these foods that’s good for your health, it doesn’t make the grade in terms of taking care of the environment.
Most organic coffee is grown on deforested plantations, which is a huge problem, as deforestation has made many migratory birds homeless. So, when birds fly south for the winter, they often arrive to find that their homes have disappeared.
However, there’s good news for caffeine “addicts:” your coffee doesn’t have to come at the expense of the birds and trees. If you’re an Earth and animal lover, there are types of coffee you can purchase that reflect those values, as long as you know what to look for.
Here are the labels you should know:
This label comes from scientists at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. “Bird Friendly” coffee not only meets the stringent requirements for the amount of shade and the type of forest in which the coffee is grown, it is also organic. These coffee farms create an environment where the forest and the farm become a single entity, ideal for both birds and organic coffee growing.
This is the best kind of coffee if you want to be both environmentally conscious and healthy. Although it’s both more expensive and harder to find than other labels, by seeking it out and paying a bit more, you are helping farmers to protect their land, and birds to keep their homes – all while protecting your health.
The “Rainforest Alliance” label guarantees that the coffee has been grown using methods that “conserve wildlife; safeguard soils and waterways; protect workers, their families and local communities; and increase livelihoods in order to achieve true, long-term sustainability.” The Rainforest Alliance certification also has specific criteria for shade cover, which prevents trees from being cut down.
On the other hand, Rainforest Alliance coffee is not necessarily organic, but it does mean farms have “reduced chemical use.”
If you see the label “Fair Trade,” you can be sure that the workers behind its processing have been paid fairly. However, this label does not ensure that environmentally friendly practices have been followed, or that the coffee is organic.
Much like the term “all-natural” is used on other food products, the term “shade-grown” is a marketing term that often appears on coffees, but is meaningless in the sense that it’s unregulated and doesn’t actually tell you very much about the cultivation practices at the farm.
Although some coffee labeled shade grown may be better than sun grown coffee, in order to find out, you’d have to research each farm individually yourself, as the label itself is meaningless.
The deforestation practices employed by many coffee farms and plantations—including those labeled organic—are unsustainable and harmful for many species of birds, and for biodiversity in general. So the next time you’re buying your coffee, look for a “Bird Friendly” option.
-The Alternative Daily