Coffee drinkers can choose

  Dear HCN,

I wish to comment on the Hotline item, "Coffee is bad for birds," in the May 12 issue of HCN. The article left the impression that consumers, until now, could not obtain shade-grown (bird-friendly) coffee. Actually, bird-friendly coffees are and have been available to the discerning coffee drinker. This is an important consumer, ecological and social justice issue. Next to oil, coffee is the second most valuable commodity traded. Coffee drinkers in the United States consume one-third of the world's production.

By probing a little deeper into the production of coffee, several significant problems are revealed:

* Insecticides, fungicides and fertilizers, including DDT, manufactured in the United States, are used extensively in both sun- and shade-grown coffees. These pesticides are harmful, even deadly, to birds and other wildlife.

* Soil-damaging erosion frequently occurs as a result of monocropping or clearing hillside forest to plant coffee trees. Herbicides are used to keep unwanted plants from competing with coffee trees.

* Perhaps the most overlooked issue in the production of coffee is worker dignity. Over 90 percent of coffee is grown on plantations and middle men profit disproportionately. Virtually all major coffee brands rely on this exploitative practice.

We can help by buying coffee grown in a sustainable manner, with a shade canopy, from farmer-owned cooperatives. As consumers we are responsible for how our choices affect environmental, economic and social factors. Coffee drinkers can make choices that respect wildlife, people and the land.

Jim Barngrover

Helena, Montana

The writer markets organic commodities, and is an avid organic grower himself.