Starbucks is in the news with the discovery that they use milk that comes from cows that are fed genetically modified organism (GMO) foods. Green America’s GMO Inside is running a campaign to get them to stop.
With more than 20,000 stores in 62 countries Starbucks has a big job ahead of them to cut out the GMO-fed dairy products, as non-GMO animal feed has a limited availability and a higher cost.
Cows commonly eat corn, soy, alfalfa, cotton side, and sugar beets. It is estimated that 60 to 90 percent of world soybean exports come from GM plants, and more than half of the worldwide production of soybeans is GM.
Genetically modified organisms occur when genes are altered by inserting other genes from unrelated species in order to increase resistance to insecticides, pesticides, and drought, and to encourage higher yields. GMOs are pervasive, and as the U.S. government does not require GMO labeling there is currently no way to tell what foods contain GMOs. The only way to guarantee that food is GMO-free is if it is labeled “100% Organic.” This is the only organic label certified as GMO free, although other foods are labeled organic.
In the US, 70 percent or more of the food in supermarkets contains GM ingredients either directly or indirectly. Over 80 percent of US corn, soybeans, and cotton are GM, as are 90 percent of sugar beets. Some products can be almost guaranteed to contain GMOs.
Everything in the dairy case comes from cows injected with rBST or rBGH, a genetically engineered hormone used to make cows give more milk. The cows making the dairy products were probably fed GM food. Starbucks does use USDA-certified organic soy milk, but using milk from cows that are not GMO-fed will be much more difficult and has the company under fire this week.
The food industry says GM feed makes no difference to animal products, and the dairy industry says GM particles from food are broken down in the digestive tracts of animals that eat them. However there are reports of GM particles being found in the milk of animals fed GMO. Both claims are scientifically unsupported.
The Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT) says milk from rBGH-treated cows has higher levels of the IGF-1 hormone, which is considered a high risk factor for cancer. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says there is no significant difference shown between milk from treated vs. non-treated cows they do acknowledge the increase of IGF-1 in the milk from treated cows.
The European Union requires food labeling to indicate whether meat, dairy products, or eggs have added GMOs, but even they have no requirement to show if the animal was fed on GMO products. GM animal feed must be labeled, but the milk, eggs and meat that comes from the GM-fed animals do not.
The GMO Compass says despite increasingly sensitive testing methods, tests still don’t pick up a difference in meat, milk or eggs of animals based on their food. They claim it is impossible to tell if the animals eat GM food, and the only way to tell is analyze the feed itself.
So the debate goes on, and Starbucks continues to be under fire for using milk from GMO-fed cows. If they do switch to GMO-fed-free, expect a price a price increase on that triple latte.
Commentary By Beth A. Balen