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Starbucks in S.L. is target of protest

A group called the Organic Consumers Association said Monday it had scheduled a protest for Tuesday at the Starbucks store at 902 E. 900 South as part of its campaign to "drive genetically engineered foods and beverages off the market and to promote sustainable, equitable and organic farming practices."

The protest will be simultaneously staged in more than 100 other cities where Seattle-based Starbucks, the nation's largest largest "gourmet" coffee shop chain, has retail outlets, according to a statement issued by the group, based in Little Marais, Minn.

The protests are scheduled to coincide with Starbucks' annual shareholders meeting in Seattle.

"Consumers demand Starbucks remove bovine growth hormone and other genetically engineered ingredients from the company's brand-name products," said group campaign director Ronnie Cummins.

It will be "a hard-fought and protracted campaign," he said.

The group's complaints extend beyond the company's coffee products to its baked goods, chocolates and ice cream. It is demanding that Starbucks "start brewing and seriously promoting fair trade, shade-grown, organic coffee and improve the wages and working conditions of farm workers on the coffee plantations of its suppliers in Guatemala, Mexico and other nations."

The group claims its campaign will be the largest ever mounted against a major U.S. food and beverage company around the issues of genetic engineering and fair trade.

"Unless Starbucks gives in to all of our demands, they run a significant risk of damaging their worldwide reputation and profitability," Cummins said.

An employee at the Salt Lake Starbucks scheduled for the protest Tuesday said he was aware of it but noted "I'm not allowed to make any comments to the news media."

Orin C. Smith, Starbucks president and chief executive officer, said he was "disappointed" that the group had refused to meet with the company "face-to-face" to discuss their concerns rather than stage public protests.

"You have expressed concern about some very complex social, economic and environmental issues that impact us all and do not lend themselves to simple solutions," said Smith in a letter he has sent to Cummins, four other members of the OCA and to a group called the Pesticide Action Network.

"Your refusal to meet unless we have categorically agreed to all your demands signals to us that you may be more interested in using Starbucks as a public forum to express your views than in working cooperatively for constructive solutions."

Smith said Starbucks must rely on governmental agencies charged with the responsibility for food safety to determine what foods are safe for human consumption, unless there is a "substantial body of evidence" that contradicts agency positions.

"We, therefore, have concluded that the products offered in our stores are safe either because they have been approved by government agencies or conform to governmental regulations."

Smith said as much as 70 percent of the products sold in supermarkets and more than 95 percent of the milk supply may have growth hormones in them and "Starbucks does not produce these good and does not have control over their supply; we are not in a position to give immediate assurances that we can offer only (growth hormone)-free goods."