For the Birds Radio Program: Coffee Part II

Original Air Date: Feb. 5, 2002

What we put into our coffee is important with regard to bird conservation.

Audio missing


Yesterday I talked about last week’s mini-protest over Starbucks coffee at the Duluth Barnes and Noble cafe, and about how concerned I am that they don’t offer shade grown coffee as one of their regular daily brews. But the coffee is only half the problem with Starbucks. The other problem is in the milk and cream they use.

Birds, not being mammals, drink very little milk or cream-the only birds I’ve ever heard of that “got milk” are some European relatives of our chickadees, who’ve mastered pecking little holes in the cardboard caps on milk jugs, and then sip at the cream on top. If I lived in Europe, I would certainly make my “got milk” campaign ads feature little European titmice with a milk mustache.

But even if our birds don’t drink milk, our cattle and dairy industries affect them. America is THE only industrialized nation on this planet that allows farmers to use Monsanto’s Bovine Growth Hormone. This drug forces dairy cows to produce unnaturally large quantities of milk. And I do mean unnatural—cows treated with rBGH are far more likely to get mastitis, a painful and dangerous infection in their udders, so they are not only fed the hormone, they are also given large amounts of antibiotics. You might want to close your ears for a second if you’re eating breakfast, but it’s important to know that milk from cows injected with this hormone is likely to have residues of hormone, antibiotics, bacteria, and pus.

Yuck. If that weren’t bad enough, these hormones and antibiotics work their ways into our bodies. Antibiotic use on farms is probably the most important reason so many strains of bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics. This is already having dire effects on human health, and bovine growth hormone is exacerbating the problem by increasing the use of antibiotics because treated cows are so prone to mastitis. And if the antibiotics weren’t bad enough, our lakes and streams are increasingly laced with a hormone cocktail that has led to the feminizing of fish. I can’t help but think it may also be related to some declines in birds, in the earlier onset of puberty in American girls, and perhaps even to the sudden market in America for Viagra.

It no longer shocks me that here in the United States a large corporation like Monsanto is given free rein to contaminate our water and food. But in the same way that this industry uses its clout to force farmers into buying their products, perhaps we consumers can use our clout to force Monsanto to stop making their profits at the expense of the environment and human health. Starbucks refuses to guarantee that the milk, chocolate, ice cream, bottled frappuccino, and baked goods they sell are free of bovine growth hormone. They will sell cappuccino and espressos made with organic milk for a 40-cent surcharge, which I strongly recommend, but I even more strongly recommend that if you buy coffee at any cafe, please request that the milk in it be hormone free. Grumble a bit if they make you pay more for milk that doesn’t enrich Monsanto.

For people who love it, coffee is a wonderful drink. And it tastes so much better when prepared with shade-grown coffee and hormone and antibiotic-free milk. If any cafes in the area prepare all their coffee this way, I’ll be happy to let people know about it.