BERKELEY, Calif. -- City voters will decide Nov. 5 on a controversial resolution proposing that only certified "fair trade" coffee be sold in the city's restaurants and supermarket cafes.
Measure O, approved by the Berkeley City Council, mandates that all brewed coffee be from beans that are organic, "fair trade" or "shade grown." The city will inspect to make sure restaurants and stores comply, and those who violate the ordinance will face a $100 fine and up to six months in jail.
If passed, the law would affect most grocery stores in the city -- including Safeway, Andronico's, Whole Foods Market and Berkeley Bowl -- because most have cafes that serve brewed coffee.
The proposal was brought to the council by Berkeley attorney Rick Young in an effort to "protect the environment and help poor coffee farmers."
According to Young, selling humanitarian coffees provides farmers with a stable price; the farmers are suffering because of "mass-produced coffee that is driving down the price of coffee." Fair trade, shade-grown and organic practices are also improving the environment, including preserving bird habitats, he said.
Opponents of the measure told council members that many Berkeley cafes and markets already serve organic, fair trade and shade-grown coffees, but retailers should not be forced into complying.
"This is not fair trade -- it is forced trade. Should people be forced into jail because they don't do this?" asked Orrel Lanter, president of Uncommon Grounds Gourmet Coffee, a local coffee roaster.
Lanter has been a proponent of fair trade and shade-grown coffee for years, but opposed this measure. "This is a very poorly thought-out law that I think ultimately hurts our cause."
"Customers should be able to decide what kind of coffee they drink," agreed Jim Reynolds, vice president of Peet's Coffee & Tea Co.
"Measure O will mean higher coffee prices in most restaurants and cafes," wrote a group of opponents, which included the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce and coffee roasters.
The effort is supported by the Organic Consumers Association, Global Exchange and United Farm Workers, while the Organic Trade Association and supermarket organizations have stayed out of the fray.
The California Grocers Association's government relations committee will be discussing the issue, but it has not taken action yet. Peter Larkin, president of CGA, said he has not heard from any retailer members who are concerned.
While Berkeley grocers declined to comment on the issue, coffee suppliers explained how they would comply if the measure passes.
Procter & Gamble, which sells Folgers and Millstone brands, will "work with retailers to comply" and would start offering fair trade coffee from its current suppliers if Measure O passes, according to Tonia Hyatt, spokeswoman for P&G. The company does not currently offer fair trade varieties because "shelf space is allocated based on consumer demand and consumer pull off the shelf. To date, consumers have not shown an interest that would warrant keeping the [effort]."
Meanwhile, in a written statement, Starbucks said it has taken steps to increase the sale of fair trade coffee in its stores. It is working with TransFair USA, which provides fair trade certification, to source enough supply of humanitarian product to provide brewed fair trade coffee as a "Coffee of the Day" once a month in its stores.