Tuesday, March 4, 2014

What Goes Into Your Cuppa? Coffee Labelling and Certification


By Wong Ee Lynn

After tobacco and cotton, conventionally-produced coffee is the third most heavily chemically-treated crop in the world. Not only are some of the synthetic pesticides and fertilizers used banned in most developed nations; they’re often used without any genuine regulatory supervision.

While some people fear pesticide residues in their coffee, there have been reports that since it’s the coffee cherry that has these chemicals applied to it, the complete removal of the fruit/pulp during
processing would mean no chemical residue was present in or on the beans. Such reports add that roasting the beans to the usual high internal temperatures (above 400°F) would drive off any chemical residue that might, by chance, remain. Others disagree; there has been speculation that agrochemicals may be taken up through the roots into coffee plants, in which case coffee beans could be carrying their residues.

Consumers also need to consider the adverse effect of all this chemical use on the coffee farmers, their families, and the environment. Runoff from synthetic pesticides and fertilizers contaminates both land and water for the people who grow coffee plants, causing immediate as well as long-term health problems. The chemicals themselves wipe out many species of plant and animal (especially insect) life indigenous to any area where they’re applied, and there’s no lack of evidence to suggest that both direct and indirect contact with many of these agrochemicals makes people very sick, especially children.

As responsible consumers, we must all strive to choose the most sustainable and socially and environmentally responsible coffee products available. The following is a list of labels and certifications and what they mean, as well as examples of such coffee products available in Malaysia.

1. Organic coffee:
As with other organic crops, certified organic coffee is grown without most synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and is fairly sustainable, although there is no criteria for shade cover. Because of coffee’s growth requirements, it’s likely that organic coffee has been grown under some kind of shade. However, many farmers shade their coffee using other crops or non-native, heavily pruned trees that provide substantially less habitat for birds, and the organic label offers no information about this.
As part of organic regulations, organic coffee must be grown on land that has not seen the use of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, or other prohibited substances for three years, there must be a sufficient buffer zone between the organic coffee and any conventional crop, and the farmer must have a suitable crop rotation plan to help prevent soil erosion, pests and the depletion of soil nutrients.
Examples of organic coffee available in Malaysia: Nature's Cuppa, Ikea Ekologist Bryggkaffe Mellanrost, Doi Chaang Coffee, Boncafe Organic.
2. Bird-Friendly.

Certified by scientists from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, this coffee is organic and meets strict requirements for both the amount of shade and the type of forest in which the coffee is grown. Bird Friendly coffee farms are unique places where forest canopy and working farm merge into a single habitat. By paying a little extra and insisting on Bird Friendly coffee, you can help farmers hold out against economic pressures and continue preserving these valuable lands.

3. Rainforest Alliance.

The most popular environmentally friendly certification for coffee as well as tea, cocoa, and fruits, Rainforest Alliance requires alternatives to chemical and pesticide use (although they stop short of organic certification), erosion control, restricted water use, and ecosystem management efforts. Because Rainforest Alliance develops standards for a wide range of farms, their shade-cover requirements are not as demanding as Bird Friendly coffee. Also, Rainforest Alliance allows coffee blends to be sold with the Rainforest Alliance label even if only a percentage of the beans (currently only 30 percent, with plans to scale up to 90 percent) carry the certification. Rainforest Alliance has a laudable goal to make a difference on a fairly large scale (they certified 540 million pounds of coffee in 2011), but there is no guarantee their certified coffee farms meet the wintering needs of migrant songbirds.

4. Shade-grown.
“Shade-grown” labels often appear on specialty coffees, but unfortunately this designation is not regulated and doesn’t tell you much about the growing conditions at the farm. When the idea for Bird Friendly coffee was hatched by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center in 1996, plans for the certification process faltered while coffee companies quickly adopted the term “shade-grown” as a marketing buzzword. Unfortunately, this type of coffee can be grown among sparse trees on farms that lack diverse forest structure. Some shade-grown coffee is even grown under only the flimsy cover of banana trees fed artificial fertilizers and pesticides.

5. Fair Trade:

Fair Trade coffee can help farmers escape poverty. Most small-scale family farmers live in remote locations and lack access to credit, so they are vulnerable to middlemen who offer cash for their coffee at a fraction of its value. Fair Trade guarantees farmers a minimum price, and links farmers directly with importers, creating long-term sustainability. Through Fair Trade, farmers earn better incomes, allowing them to hold on to their land and invest in quality. Fairtrade Standards for coffee act as a safety net against the unpredictable market. They provide security to coffee producers so that they will get a price that covers their average costs of sustainable production.
Examples of Fair Trade coffee available in Malaysia: Tesco Finest Fairtrade Espresso, Doi Chaang Coffee.
6. UTZ Certified:
UTZ Certified is a label and programme for sustainable farming of agricultural products launched in 2002, for coffee, tea, cocoa, and other products. UTZ Certified products are traceable from grower to end product manufacturers (e.g. in coffee this is the roaster). The foundation operates a web-based track-and-trace system, showing the buyers of UTZ certified products links to the certified source(s). Some coffee brands and retailers also provide their customers with this transparency through online coffee tracers. Independent, third party auditors make annual inspections to ensure coffee producers comply with the Code of Conduct. Coffee with an UTZ certification has added value in the sense that it assures buyers that their coffee has been produced according to an internationally recognized standard for responsible production, i.e. according to the UTZ Certified Code of Conduct. Buyers recognize this extra value by paying coffee growers a price premium for UTZ-certified coffee. An UTZ certification empowers coffee growers to negotiate a better price for their product. They have access to information about average prices and premiums for the all the coffees sold as UTZ Certified. Furthermore, twice a year a Supply & Demand Analysis is published, where the major trends from the past and the expectations for the future are presented. This publication is an important source of information both for producers and buyers.
Examples of UTZ-certified coffee available in Malaysia: Ikea Ekologist Bryggkaffe Mellanrost.
(Sources: http://www.thenibble.com/reviews/nutri/matter/organic-coffee3.asp

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