Singer Neil Young Boycotts Starbucks over Vermont's GMO Labeling Law

By Olsen, Paul E.; Popovich, Karen et al. | Journal of Case Studies, November 2016 | Go to article overview

Singer Neil Young Boycotts Starbucks over Vermont's GMO Labeling Law


Olsen, Paul E., Popovich, Karen, Brenock, Alexandra, Journal of Case Studies


   Protect the wild, tomorrow's child    Protect the land from the greed of man    Take out the dams, stand up to oil    Protect the plants and renew the soil     Who's gonna stand up and save the Earth?    Who's gonna say that she's had enough?    Who's gonna take on the big machine?    Who's gonna stand up and save the Earth?    This all starts with you and me 

Lyrics from Neil Young's "Who's Gonna Stand Up?"

Introduction

Kyle Roberson joked that if you cut him he'd bleed Starbucks. In fact, Roberson's loyalty to the Seattle-based company earned him Gold Level membership in Starbucks' Customer Rewards Program. "I would describe myself as a loyal customer and a regular visitor to Starbucks both locally and when traveling," he said. "They brew a consistently good cup of coffee no matter where you go and that can't always be said for other coffee shops which can be hit or miss with their roasts."

To keep up with news about Starbucks, Roberson followed the company on social media. "I follow both Starbucks US and Canada on social media via Facebook, Twitter, Swarm, and Instagram," he said. That's how he learned about singer-songwriter Neil Young's call for a boycott of Starbucks in November 2014. He later read more about Young's boycott online and in newspapers. Those news articles led Roberson to understand that Neil Young opposed genetically engineered foods.

In calling for the boycott, Young, a longtime environmentalist, accused Starbucks of suing Vermont over landmark legislation the state enacted mandating the labeling of food products made with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Roberson, a former Vermonter who lived in Seattle, supported Vermont's GMO labeling law and was concerned about Young's claims. Could he continue to patronize Starbucks if what Neil Young said was true?

Roberson, a librarian, decided to learn more about the issue and began researching Vermont's GMO labeling law, GMO producer Monsanto, and Starbucks' relationship with the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), a trade group for food and beverage companies.

Vermont's GMO Labeling Law

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) described genetic engineering as "the name for certain methods that scientists use to introduce new traits or characteristics to an organism. For example, plants may be genetically engineered to produce characteristics to enhance the growth or nutritional profile of food crops" ("U.S. Food," 2014). Genetically engineered foods were sometimes referred to as GMOs, or genetically modified organisms.

Genetically modified and genetically engineered foods first came to light in 1999 when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) submitted a statement to the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on Basic Research on the importance of regulating genetically engineered foods ("U.S. Food," 1999). Though the FDA did not support nor oppose genetically modified foods as of 2015, the federal agency did play a role in overseeing and regulating them ("U.S. Food," 2013).

The topic of genetically engineered foods was not present in politics again until January 2013, when bill H.112 was proposed in the Vermont Legislature, requiring products made with genetically modified foods to include a label (Ford & Ferrigno, 2014). According to the bill, the intent of the legislation was to "provide that food is misbranded if it is entirely or partially produced with genetic engineering and it is not labeled as genetically engineered." This bill was signed into law by Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin in May 2013 and required foods made with GMOs to be labeled by July 2016 (Ford & Ferrigno, 2014).

Monsanto, a U.S.-based agriculture company, was the leading producer of genetically modified seeds at the center of the GMO controversy. The company had more than 21,000 employees in 66 countries and was committed to "helping to bring a broad range of solutions to help nourish our growing world" (Monsanto, 2015). …

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