By CRAIG HARRIS
January 16, 2007
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With no fanfare, Starbucks Coffee Co. this month began using milk products without a controversial artificial growth hormone in its home state.
But the switch may drive up the cost of your caffeine habit.
The company said Tuesday that it has stopped using dairy products with Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, or rBGH, in company-owned stores in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, Montana, Northern California and New England. The supplement, approved by the federal government more than a decade ago, is given to dairy cows during the middle phase of lactation to produce more milk.
The move, while hailed by one consumer rights group, likely will cause Starbucks to increase its coffee prices because rBGH is widely used in dairy farms, said Blair Thompson, a spokesman for the Washington Dairy Products Commission.
"Unless they are willing to absorb a higher cost and take a smaller profit, they will have to pass it on to the consumer," Thompson said. "They will have to pay more to get the product."
Sanja Gould, a Starbucks spokeswoman, said the company "at this time" is not raising prices and is working with dairy suppliers on the cost. The dairy products involved include milk, half and half, whipping cream and eggnog.
Gould said Starbucks wasn't going to announce it had made the switch until it was done at all company-owned stores, but Starbucks began answering questions Tuesday after a story about the change by the Reuters news agency.
The switch follows Starbucks' decision earlier this month to eliminate trans-fatty acids from items at half of the 5,668 company-owned stores in the United States, including Seattle.
The rBGH decision affects 346 stores in Washington.
Gould said that as of this month, 37 percent of dairy products the company buys for its U.S.-owned stores are rBGH-free. That's up from 27 percent a month ago.
"We think it's good news, and we are happy to hear it," said Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food and Water Watch, a Washington, D.C.-based consumer rights group. "We want to see them put in the effort for the other 60 percent."
Gould said the company eventually would like to have all of its stores use rBGH-free dairy products.
"We have strict standards to ensure our products have high quality, and we want to meet our customers' needs and preferences," Gould said. "We are working with suppliers and working with ways to have rBGH-free milk."
A few advocacy groups claim not enough research has been done on the effects on humans who consume milk products from rBGH-injected cows. Critics of rBGH also say the supplement can be harmful to cows.
Thompson, of the dairy products commission, said pressure to use rBGH-free milk is coming from retailers who want to charge more for the product and a small group of activists. He also said there is no scientific evidence to show the use of rBGH affects milk for humans.
"Growth hormones only work on their own kind. A lot of people don't understand that," Thompson said.