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CMU Beef Of The Week #233: Neil Young v Coffee

By | Published on Friday 21 November 2014

Neil Young

After the runaway success of last week’s Beef Of The Week (literally only one person described it as “pants”), I’m going to continue on a theme. After all, why should ‘beef’ get all the action? Just because that particular consumable got randomly selected as the new term for ‘disagreement’. It could have been coffee. I see no reason why in a parallel universe this column wouldn’t be called ‘CMU Coffee Of The Week’ to mean exactly the same thing.

So, luckily for every single goddamn one of us, Neil Young has just noticed that Starbucks might be a company of dubious morals. Really, he’s just spotted that. Until recently he used to queue up with all the other start-up CEOs to get his morning latte. But not anymore.

Actually, despite my tone so far, he’s making an admirably principled stand (I’m just always confused by anyone who isn’t already boycotting Starbucks, at least on the grounds that their coffee tastes awful). He claims, based on a campaign recently launched by US campaigning website SumOfUs, that Starbucks is “supporting a lawsuit that’s aiming to block a landmark law [in the state of Vermont] that requires genetically-modified ingredients be labelled. Amazingly, it claims that the law is an assault on corporations’ right to free speech”.

He wrote in a message to fans on his website: “I used to line up and get my latte every day, but yesterday was my last one. Starbucks has teamed up with [GM seed producer] Monsanto to sue Vermont, and stop accurate food labelling. Tell Starbucks to withdraw support for the lawsuit – we have a right to know what we put in our mouths. Starbucks doesn’t think you have the right to know what’s in your coffee. So it’s teamed up with Monsanto to sue the small US state of Vermont to stop you from finding out”.

I’ll tell you what’s in your Starbucks coffee – fucking horrible coffee. But anyway, we’ve covered that. Young goes on: “There’s much more at stake here than just whether GMO foods will be labelled in a single US state. Vermont is the very first state in the US to require labelling. Dozens of other states have said that they will follow this path – in order to encourage this, we need to ensure that Vermont’s law stands strong. That’s why Monsanto and its new allies are fighting so hard to kill GMO labelling in Vermont. But whatever you think of GMOs, corporations should not be using massive lawsuits to overturn legitimate, democratic decisions with strong public backing”.

Young concedes that Starbucks itself isn’t pursuing this action, but says the coffee giant is just keeping itself at arms length – possibly for PR reasons – with the action actually being fronted by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, of which the coffee company is a member.

But “not so” says Starbucks, which insists it is not part of the GMA’s movements in Vermont. In a statement responding to the SumOfUs campaign last week, the company said: “Starbucks is not a part of any lawsuit pertaining to GMO labelling nor have we provided funding for any campaign. And Starbucks is not aligned with Monsanto to stop food labelling or block Vermont State law. The petition claiming that Starbucks is part of this litigation is completely false and we have asked the petitioners to correct their description of our position. Starbucks has not taken a position on the issue of GMO labelling. As a company with stores and a product presence in every state, we prefer a national solution”.

So, can we hate Starbucks on this point or not, that’s the question. Possibly not. There’s still the whole tax thing, of course. Plus, have I mentioned that I really don’t like Starbucks coffee? Oh, and as a coffee shop that once operated a record label, it could be said that Starbucks once compared music to coffee. And I think you all now what I think about that.