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What’s The Deal With Neil Young’s Star...

What’s The Deal With Neil Young’s Starbucks GMO Boycott?

Propaganda via Twitter

Propaganda via Twitter

“I used to line up and get my latte everyday, but yesterday was my last one.”

Neil Young, via his amazing time capsule of a Geocities website, has announced that he is boycotting Starbucks. This announcement, which has caused a mild media dust-up, rides the coat-tails of Young’s latest over-the-top double album release, Storytone, earlier this month. Is Neil Young making a worthwhile statement or is he just looking for a little media attention? What the sam hell is this all about anyway?

Propaganda via Snopes

Propaganda via Snopes

Well, Neil Young’s boycott grows out of a viral campaign against Starbucks and Green Mountain Coffee driven by SumOfUs.org, a petition website billing itself as a “new world-wide movement for a better global economy.” Why? Because the two companies are members of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the “world’s largest trade association representing the food, beverage, and consumer products industry.”

The association is involved in a threatened lawsuit against Vermont, summed up thusly via Snopes.com:

The [SumOfUs.org] petition references Vermont’s Act 120, voted upon in April 2014 and signed into law on 8 May 2014. Under the provisions of the new law, Vermont is poised to became the first state to require labeling of all foods containing genetically modified ingredients by 1 July 2016.

On 13 June 2014, the GMA issued a press release stating its intent to challenge the law in Vermont, positing the law was unconstitutional and citing the First Amendment.

The association’s members include much larger fish in the food pond, like Nestlé, Kelloggs, and Dean Foods, but SumOfUs.org chose to target Starbucks with the idea that they could be swayed by a social media campaign due to their relative size and their general commitment to ethical trade and labor practices.

“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 U.S. state of Vermont to stop you from finding out,” SumOfUs.org’s petition reads. But wait, there’s more!

According to the petition, “hiding behind the shadowy ‘Grocery Manufacturers Association’, Starbucks is supporting a lawsuit that’s aiming to block a landmark law that requires genetically-modified ingredients be labeled. Amazingly, it claims that the law is an assault on corporations’ right to free speech.”

Shadowy! Neil Young, in his digital diatribe, echoed SumOfUs.org’s wordin’: “The next strategic step is to pressure and call out members of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the shadowy body leading the lawsuit.”

Propaganda via Snopes

Propaganda via Snopes

So, what’s the deal? Is GMA, in fact, shadowy? Has Starbucks teamed up with Monsanto?! Do we only have 48 hours to raise $20,000 before mean old Mr. McGillicuddy tears down the community center to build a garbage dump?

For all manners of frothy gossip on the internet, we turn to Snopes.com, who’ve concluded that this particular piece of gossip is a frothy mixture of truths and fabrications.

Snopes says that while it’s true that “Starbucks is a member of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a group challenging Vermont over GMO labeling requirements,” it’s false that “Starbucks has joined forces with Monsanto to sue the state of Vermont over GMO labeling requirements.”

Reuters rooted out more details:

“Starbucks is not part of any litigation pertaining to GMO labeling. … We don’t support the lawsuit,” Starbucks said in a statement.

“Neither Starbucks nor Monsanto is participating in our lawsuit to overturn Vermont’s GMO labeling law,” GMA spokesman Brian Kennedy said in an email to Reuters.

Though Reuters does note that:

Internal GMA documents filed last year as part of a lawsuit in Washington State revealed members contribute to a “Defense of Brands Strategic Account” designed “to help the industry fund programs to address the threats from motivated and well financed activists” and to “shield individual companies from criticism for funding of specific efforts.”

Kennedy, the GMA spokesman, did not respond to questions related to that account.

To further dispute SumOfUs.org’s claims, the Grocery Manufacturers Association has elaborated on Starbucks’ relationship with the organization. CNN reports that “as an affiliate member, [Starbucks] is not involved in any policy, governance, or legal work with the Association, which includes the lawsuit in Vermont.”

Though Neil Young’s boycott attempt has focused on Starbucks, the SumOfUs.org petition includes Green Mountain Coffee as one of Starbucks’ and Monsanto’s co-conspirators. Green Mountain started off as a single cafe in Vermont, but over the years has expanded to become one of the biggest names in coffee. The massive corporation recently renamed itself Keurig Green Mountain to foreground the engine of this expansion: the Keurig or “k-cup” single-serving coffee brewers and the branded ecosystem of disposable coffee and beverage pods for those brewers.

When asked for comment, Keurig Green Mountain’s Sandy Yusen said, “Green Mountain Coffee has not directly or indirectly funded or been involved in the [GMA] lawsuit.” When asked whether KGM was an affiliate member of the Grocery Manufacturers Association like Starbucks, Yusen responded that they are a general member of the GMA, but that Keurig Green Mountain has “confirmed with the GMA that our membership dues are not allocated to the lawsuit in Vermont or to other anti-labeling campaigns.”

Neil Young’s website, as of Friday November 21, stood strong in its anti-Starbucks sentiment. Huffington Post published an op-ed by Jacob Devaney, who feels that targeting a member of GMA is easier than boycotting the entire GMA. Devaney exclaims, “Let’s hope that [Starbucks and Green Mountain] hear us and do the right thing!”

According to Reuters, Starbucks says its membership with the GMA “gives it a voice in industry debates.” Starbucks says they don’t support the lawsuit, and Keurig Green Mountain has now asserted that their GMA dues are not supporting the lawsuit either. What will be the impact of singling out those major players as culpable in a political movement away from labelling transparency, even though each company can claim, through technicalities, that the GMA’s actions don’t speak for them? Will we see larger corporations taking more active responsibility—perhaps even dissent—for the actions of umbrella groups they’ve aligned with, or is this just a new caramel swirl topping an old, played-out latte of diversion and corporate loopholery? And most importantly, who is doing Neil Young’s sweet web and graphic design and how do we hire them?

What do you think? Sound off in the comments below!


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  1. 83Millard

    28 July

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  2. King Cortado

    24 November

    Starbucks could and should defuse this quickly by pulling out of the GMA. But they won’t., because they’re a huge fast food company and they don’t care what you think. $15 and a union!

  3. A Critic

    23 November

    Monsanto creates the GMO corn used to make the milk Starbucks uses.

    With every sip you DO support Monsanto!

    • Ada B Surdum

      24 November

      Do you pay your taxes? The federal government uses that money to subsidize corn production, including Monsanto BT corn! With every dollar you earn, you support Monsanto!

      #StopPayingTaxesStopMonsanto

      The indie cafe down the way that serves all-organic everything has a landlord who pays child support to his ex-wife, whose new husband uses their collective income to pay into Scientology. Going to *that* cafe pays into a corrupt “religious” organization that manipulates local governments to do their bidding and has a history of killing its members!

      • Thad L. Schoum

        25 November

        Exactly. This is why I buy all my consumables from Jain Buddhists using exclusively Bitcoin.

  4. Ken

    21 November

    I remember when Neil Young stood up for real issues like war and homelessness. Now he crusades for higher bit rate music formats and bougie food fad nonsense. Way to fight the power Neil.

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