Bird Friendly, Fair Trade or Organic Coffee: What Does It All Mean?

In the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture sets standards that must be met for a product to be labeled organic.  In the case of coffee, producers cannot use synthetic substances such as most pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.  If coffee is labeled organic, at least 95 % of the beans must have been grown under organic conditions.  Coffee is the heaviest chemically treated food commodity in the world.  The most common chemical used in coffee production is synthetic petroleum-based fertilizers which slowly destroy the soil’s fertility and seep into local water supplies.

Not only does the environment suffer from this overload, but so do the people who live in it. Farmers are exposed to a high level of chemicals while spraying the crops and while handling them during harvest. The surrounding communities are also impacted by chemical residues in the air and water.

These chemical presences are not just unpleasant; many are highly toxic and detrimental to human health. So… yeah, buying and drinking organic coffee is the right thing to do on several levels.

Sometimes, trying to find organic coffee can be a challenge. While perusing the coffee aisle, you’ll find bags of coffee with various types of labels. But what do they all mean?  And does it mean they are organic?  Well, first of all, the only label that means organic is the one that clearly spells out the words organic or non-GMO.

Other labels you may see are:

Fair Trade – Farmers must follow sustainable practices for disposing of hazardous and organic wastes, maintain buffer zones around bodies of water, and minimize water use, avoid erosion and conserve the soil.

The minimum price set by Fairtrade International for washed Arabica coffee beans was increased to $1.40 per pound. Another 30 cents is added if the coffee is also certified as organic. An additional 20 cents, called the Fairtrade Premium, is collected and is used to fund social and business development projects in the producing communities. One-fourth of that premium is set aside for efforts to improve quality and productivity. These prices are paid to the farmers’ cooperatives, which then distribute profits after expenses.

Direct Trade – Direct trade is a term used by coffee roasters who buy straight from the growers, cutting out both the traditional middleman buyers and sellers and also the organizations that control certifications

Bird Friendly – Bird Friendly is a certification created by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC), which is part of the National Zoo based in Washington, D.C. Bird Friendly standards are the strictest of the third-party environmental standards. Certified coffees carry this seal.

The SMBC requires that producers meet the requirements for organic certification first, and then meet additional criteria to ensure they are maintaining the forest cover that provides habitat for birds and other wildlife. As a result, Bird Friendly coffee offers all the environmental benefits of organic coffee.

Rainforest Alliance – The Rainforest Alliance is a non-profit, tax-exempt organization based in New York. Its mission is to conserve biodiversity by promoting sustainability in agriculture, forestry, tourism, and other businesses. The Rainforest Alliance certifies coffee, as well as other products and services when it is produced under certain standards.

In general, Rainforest Alliance standards are intended to protect the environment and the rights of workers. The basic guidelines are called the Sustainable Agriculture Standard and additional specific rules apply to coffee producers.
As you see, while there are diverse certifications to cater to the cares and concerns of coffee drinkers, they do not all imply an organic source for your coffee beans.

If you are concerned about the food and beverages you and your family consume, it can only be a benefit to read labels and do your research.  The best part of waking up can be your cup of coffee, but not if those beans are coated in pesticides.