They’re seemingly on every corner in North America. Identified as the most popular coffeehouse chain, Starbucks, like other big chains, is about business and the bottom line, its grassroots origins are notwithstanding. As one of the big billionaire corporations, Starbucks has a lot more going on behind the scenes.
While your black coffee may be pretty straightforward, other menu items contain some pretty surprising ingredients. Starbuck’ secret may just influence where you buy your next cup o’ joe.
A Dirty Starbucks Secret
Starbucks is a member of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA). This organization represents the largest food sellers in the United States: from genetically-engineered seeds and agricultural chemicals to dairy products and processed foods including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, General Mills, Nestlé, Del Monte, and more than 250 others. It is a very powerful lobby that influences how we grow, market, and sell food.
In 2013, the state of Washington filed suit against the GMA for money laundering and fraud in the $70 million campaign against labeling foods that contain genetically-modified organisms (GMO). In 2007, Starbucks threw concerned consumers a very small bone by consciously and vocally removing the use of milk with Monsanto’s rBGH (growth hormone) in its beverages. They touted this act in an announcement that they were going GMO-free. However, they have a long way to go.
What’s more, their milk still contains antibiotics and comes from factory cows raised in unsanitary and nonethical conditions. When you count all the 23,000 Starbucks stores in 64 different countries, this amounts to insane quantities of milk. According to the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) in 2011, Starbucks purchased over, ‘93 million gallons of milk per year, enough to fill 155 Olympic-sized swimming pools.’
More than Just the Milk
Misleading and bold advertising effectively hides Starbucks’ secret: its use of GMO is prevalent, from their milk (factory-farmed cows are fed GMO corn and soy) to its sandwiches and baked goods. The nutritional labels in their stores do not reflect these ingredients.
As Food Democracy Now put it: ‘In the past two years alone, Starbucks has been a part of a GMA-led coalition that has donated more than $70 million dollars to defeat GMO labeling efforts in California and Washington State. By opposing GMO labeling, Starbucks has willingly climbed in bed with Monsanto and the GMA and is intentionally misleading customers about their commitment to sustainability and ethical sourcing.’
However, if you click on nutritional information listings on the Starbucks website, the nutritional analyses are listed, but not the ingredients. Plus, on one page, they say there’s no trans fat in their products but in the nutritional breakdown, there are. This means that customers consume GMOs and other harmful ingredients without knowing it.
The GMA has successfully blocked GMO-labeling legislation in more than 30 states, with a cost of countless millions of dollars. One of its arguments against GMO labeling is the cost of producing new labels. So why is Starbucks spending so much? It’s simple: if their clientele really knew what they’re selling, they would lose even more money in sales.
Vermont is a trailblazer in its quest to make GMO labeling mandatory. A legislation was passed there (Act 120) that went into effect in July 2016. GMA, the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association, and the National Association of Manufacturers filed suit against the state of Vermont shortly after the legislation passed. In the short time since the bill has passed, GMO sales have already significantly decreased.
Grounds for the suit are the facts that the U.S. government agencies that regulate food have deemed GMO safe and the Act is “compelling manufacturers to convey messages they do not want to convey”. The consumer advocacy group SumOfUs has collected almost a quarter of a million dollars from its donors for the Vermont legal defense fund.
Why is Starbucks Fighting?
“There’s much more at stake here than just whether GMO foods will be labeled in a single U.S. state. Vermont is the very first state in the U.S. to require labeling. 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 labeling in Vermont.”
By way of membership in GMA and shady but cute marketing, Starbucks is masking its GMO use and pro-GMO position. So far, it’s spent over 100 million dollars on stopping similar legislation in 30 other state
In addition to its use of GMO food ingredients, Starbucks’ boasts social responsibility and sustainability, but their practices aren’t always aligned with this philosophy. Starbucks outlets use single-use paper and plastic cups for its gazillions of beverages while stating that they are “committed to significantly reducing the waste our stores generate… In many of our stores, we recycle at least one type of waste”.
Dangers of Common Ingredients
It’s not just the GMO stuff you have to be worried about. Even the most simple Starbucks drinks typically contain the ingredients below. As you can imagine, more complex drinks like the Unicorn Frappuccino contain more of the harmful stuff, including artificial flavoring and coloring.
The World Health Organisation recommends that we should only eat 5-6 teaspoons (20-24g) of sugar a day, including naturally-occurring sugar from fruits. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, on the other hand, recommends that you can eat to 50g of added sugars a day. That’s more than double the international standards.
Too much salt put a strain on the kidneys and contributes to conditions like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and stroke.
Potassium sorbate is a preservative that fights the growth of bacteria, fungi, mold, and yeast. It can cause allergic reactions in some people. There are also concerns that the additive accumulates in the body and causes non-reproductive organ toxicity.
Fruit Juice Concentrate
This processed fruit juice is filtered and evaporated so that just the natural flavors and sugars remain. What’s lost is the nutrients and fiber found in freshly pressed juice. Sometimes, the concentrate contains high fructose corn syrup, making it even more harmful to adults and children alike.
Dextrose is a sweetener which is chemically identical to glucose. It’s actually made from corn. As a simple sugar, it quickly affects blood sugar levels and has no nutritional value. Dextrose has cause hyperglycemia, dangerously high blood sugar. Symptoms of the condition include dehydration, nausea, shortness of breath, stomach upset, and dehydration. Other risks of dextrose are similar to those of sugar.
Worst Starbucks Drinks To Avoid
Here are the worst drinks you can consume at the coffee giant. Double Chocolatey Chip Cream Frappuccino: this calorie-dense drink is laden with milk, whipped cream, frappuccino syrup, mocha chips, and mocha sauce. It also includes additives like corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, palm oil, sugar, cocoa, potassium sorbate.
Strawberries and Cream Frappuccino– Containing milk, cream frappuccino syrup, strawberry base, whipped cream, and the classic syrup, this drink is a mixture of flavoring, artificial coloring, modified fats, sugar, citric acid and potassium sorbate. The Java Chip Frappuccino, White Chocolate Mocha Frappuccino, Caramel Coco Cluster Frappuccino and every other kind of Frappucino is just as artificial.
If you’re a coffee junkie, it’s best to visit your local independent coffee shop. You can also try recreating your favorite drink at home. If you have to stop at a Starbucks for whatever reason, stick to water, plain coffee without milk, or herbal tea.