How Starbucks Can Help Prevent Thousands of Deaths and Millions of Sick People

More than 60 million customers visit Starbucks retail stores every week. While many of them are concerned about their health, the environment and animal welfare, they may not realize all the negative effects caused by the factory-farmed milk that Starbucks purchases each year.


By switching from conventional to organic milk, Starbucks can make a huge positive impact in several critical areas, from improving the lives of cows at factory farms to slowing the rise of superbugs to maintaining the health of oceans, pollinators and many generations of humans to come. One of the more alarming facts: 2 million people become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria every year, resulting in 23,000 deaths.

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There are two ways to get milk: the bad way and the better way. The bad way is the conventional way: milk from cows who are suffering and mistreated in huge factory farms that overuse antibiotics and pollute waterways. The better way is the organic, sustainable way, using cows who are treated better and fed no antibiotics.

Every year, Starbucks purchases 140 million gallons of ill-gotten milk from factory farms.

I had a chance to ask Nicole McCann, director of food campaigns at Green America, a nonprofit consumer organization that promotes environmental sustainability and social justice, about their campaign to get Starbucks to switch from conventional to organic milk.

Reynard Loki: In your new infographic (click on infographic above or click here) and report, "Starbucks: From Crop to Cup - The Impact of Sourcing Industrial Conventional Milk," Green America makes a compelling case for Starbucks to make the switch to organic. Why are you targeting Starbucks specifically? What about Dunkin' Donuts, McDonald's or even the U.S. military?

Nicole McCann: All of those entities would have a big impact on the market if they adopted organic milk, including the National School Lunch Program (part of U.S. government procurement). But we chose Starbucks because it is the most ubiquitous coffee shop in the world. Particularly in the U.S. there are Starbucks all over, while Dunkin' Donuts is mainly in the east. In the infographic we even show how there are nine Starbucks per square mile in Manhattan. Starbucks is the McDonald's of coffee. It is nearly impossible to find such proprietary sales info, like the breakdown of how many lattes (cups that are filled with mostly milk) it sells, but if you've ever been in one, you know they serve a lot of lattes. That's not the case for McDonald's.

RL: Should I still care about this issue even if I don't shop at Starbucks or even drink milk?

NM: Even if you don't drink dairy milk or frequent your neighborhood Starbucks, if you care about the state of animal welfare and environmental and human health, then you should care about industrialized conventional dairy served in lattes at Starbucks.

RL: Will a switch to organic milk affect the price of a Starbucks latte?

NM: Not if Starbucks makes a smart transition to organic. Looking at current wholesale prices and comparing organic to conventional at this exact point in time misses the picture of food systems change that we're hoping to make. Making a public commitment that Starbucks wants to transition to organic milk, along with collaboration with the dairy farmers it uses, will signal to the farmers that they will have secure contracts. They need the security of knowing they will have the contracts if they take the risk of transitioning to organic. This will take time. Developing an orderly transition, such as by particular regions, state by state, or flagship stores in certain areas, starting out with organic milk as an option (there a lot of ways Starbucks could go about implementing an orderly transition), allows the market time to adjust accordingly and not send prices upward.

RL: Do you have any price examples from coffee sellers who use organic milk?

NM: Starbucks owns a coffee café based in the Bay Area called La Boulange which serves organic coffee and organic milk. A large latte there costs $3.75 (again, it's both organic coffee and milk), and a grande latte at Starbucks costs $3.45 for neither organic coffee nor organic milk. The organic milk at La Boulange is sourced from Straus Family Creamery which has some of the highest animal welfare and environmental standards, to boot. Additionally, an East Coast and Midwest chain that was started in the United Kingdom, Pret A Manger (which actually serves grass-fed organic milk, organic and fair trade coffee, and organic soy milk) also has a lower cost per latte than Starbucks. See our side by side comparison here.

RL: Is there any indication that Starbucks will make the switch?

NM: Starbucks is a company that prides itself on giving its customers what they want. We chose it because it is a leader in its industry and has the purchasing power to ensure contracts for farmers and move the entire market toward organic milk. The company listened to its customers in 2008 when it decided to stop sourcing milk from cows given artificial growth hormones, so this campaign builds on that one.

RL: How important is it for Starbucks to make the switch and what are the challenges in making that switch?

NM: The environmental and animal welfare benefits are huge. The challenges to making the switch can be addressed by phasing organic milk in. There is a current strain on organic milk supply in the U.S. right now, with demand exceeding supply. We know that. There has been a soaring demand for organic milk. Customers want it. Demand begets supply, but it takes time to adjust. It is essential that Starbucks transitions to organic milk. By setting the standard, Starbucks can demonstrate a serious commitment to providing environmentally and socially conscious products and set a tidal wave of change within the dairy industry. We are realistic and don't expect Starbucks to transition overnight. It will take time for an orderly transition. But it's time Starbucks addresses the many negative impacts of industrial conventional dairy, throughout the supply chain from feed crop to cup, on animal welfare and human and environmental health.

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