The specialty coffee industry is waking up to USDA's decision to revamp organic inspections for small farmers in the Third World - an issue I wrote about at Salon. The decision is expected to curtail organic coffee supplies in the U.S. and choke off a market for poor farmers. Here's an excerpt of a letter from two coffee companies sent to industry associations:
Given a little careful reflection, I think this pending USDA actionamounts to disastrous unintended consequences. As you know, small farmer groups are supplying the U.S. coffee industry with many great and interesting coffees from around the globe. From Timor, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Colombia, El Salvador and Mexico just to name a few.
The U.S. Coffee Industry and American consumer has benefited considerably from these certified small farmer groups. But the benefits of organic certification go far beyond providing us with coffee.
Organic certification is often a keystone around which communities can organize. In my personal experience I have seen health clinics built in Timor, schools in Colombia, improvements crop in yield and income, better environmental practices, access to micro-loans and pre-crop-financing throughout the coffee growing world---all as a result of organic certification.
These farmers are on a playing field that will never be level. As far as I know, this USDA action comes without any consultation or input from the coffee industry.
I think it is extremely important that the SCAA, the Pacific Coast Coffee Association and The Roaster’s Guild come out strongly in support of these small farmer groups and we oppose these pending changes to USDA law. (Emphasis added)
Letters have also been written to Congress. Although the coffee industry is organizing, this will also effect tea producers, banana growers and cocoa bean farmers. All those specialty organic chocolate bars people have been gobbling up may be a thing of the past due to this USDA ruling.
Addendum -- The Salon story was picked up in the Wall Street Journal's Informed Reader (subscription required) column yesterday, p. B9 . (Thanks to Sandy at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters for pointing it out),
- Samuel Fromartz