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Author of coffee initiative speaks

Rick Young
Monday September 30, 2002

To the Editor: 


As author of the Berkeley coffee initiative, I must respond to some comments in the Daily Planet regarding the initiative. First, Dorothee Mitrani-Bell, who charges $1.75 for a cup of coffee at her Berkeley restaurant, La Note, claims she would have to charge 75 cents more for a cup of certified coffee. If she brewed 12 cups from a pound of certified coffee (and that’s very strong coffee), and charged an extra 75 cents per cup, she would recoup an extra $9.00 per pound. Certified coffees, however, are very price-competitive with high quality non-certified coffees. A pound of organic coffee generally costs only about 50 cents per pound more wholesale. I ask Ms. Mitrani-Bell to explain why she would need to charge an extra 75 cents per cup. 

Second, Krystell Guzman, director of coffee programs for Jeremiah’s Pick Coffee, claims that certification is costly for farmers. Fair Trade certification, however, is free. And it’s so easy that there is a huge supply of Fair Trade coffee. The problem is that there aren’t enough buyers. The key is increasing demand for certified coffee, which is exactly what this initiative would do. Does Ms. Guzman prefer the status quo: the environment suffers and small farmers struggle for survival while coffee companies enjoy record profits? 

Finally, Fred Foldvary suggests that we should simply rely on education to improve the status quo. Would he prefer to scrap all environmental and labor laws and simply rely on education and the good intentions of corporations? We know how well voluntary methods work now: not that many cafes in Berkeley brew certified coffees. It would be nice if we could rely simply on education, but that is just not the way society functions in reality. We use laws to protect everything we value, such as clean air, clean water, endangered species, human rights, and fair labor practices. This initiative is no different. For example, we as a society did not ask gas stations to sell unleaded gas. Rather, we banned leaded gas and required unleaded. Why allow a damaging product at all when a better alternative is available? 


Rick Young