Contact: Christopher Heffron
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January 15, 2004     567 Words

Is Your Coffee Really Good to the Last Drop?

CINCINNATI—Before pouring their first cup of coffee in the morning, more and more people are asking themselves: Where is this coffee produced? Under what working conditions? Is the product safe and healthy? Is it high quality? If they are drinking a brand that is not Fair Trade Certified, then the answer to those questions is most likely no. A simple cup of coffee isn't so simple anymore.

The growing coffee crisis for Guatemalan harvesters, American coffee drinkers and the movement to ensure a fair exchange for a quality product are all featured in St. Anthony Messenger's February cover story, "The Coffee/Conscience Connection." In it, Assistant Managing Editor and coffee enthusiast Carol Ann Morrow interviews native Guatemalan Alvaro Ramazzini, bishop of the Diocese of San Marcos, Guatemala, as well as representatives from other organizations determined to improve the lives and working conditions of coffee pickers. After January 20, the article will be posted at:

Given the price of coffee, and considering that Guatemalan harvesters earn only 14 quetzales a day ($1.75), they can't afford to enjoy the fruits of their own labor. Bishop Ramazzini has devoted his life to changing that. "I really don't care at all about coffee. I care about people. In Guatemala, I see their poverty, their suffering, their lack of a future," he says.

Coffee that is Fair Trade Certified is slightly more expensive than regular brands. So why should America, a nation that imports more coffee than any other country, want to endorse a movement that promises to hike the costs? According to Erbin Crowell of Equal Exchange, an organization determined to enact Fair Trade standards, Fair Trade coffee is of high quality and that, even at a higher price, averages only six cents a cup.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has also been supporting this change in coffee-producing nations. Recently, the agency provided food and health services through its emergency fund to 191 families in Bishop Ramazzini's diocese. CRS is also launching a new effort to link Catholic parishes to those who grow and harvest coffee. In November 2003, CRS announced its "Coffee Project," aimed at relieving poverty among thousands of small coffee farmers.

Change is slow, but happening. Nestlé (Nescafé), Philip Morris, which is now Altria (Maxwell House), Procter & Gamble (Folgers) and Sara Lee (Chock full o'Nuts) are the biggest international coffee sellers. Sara Lee and Procter & Gamble are on board, agreeing to market limited amounts of Fair Trade Certified coffee. Altria and Nestlé have not yet made that commitment.

Crowell believes that it's time to appreciate and understand the farmers who harvest our food. "We believe that working directly with those people who grow our food—understanding their lives, understanding how trade affects them—and  trying to create a model that helps them sustain their lives and feed their families is a much more rational approach to trade and globalization than the one we're currently engaged with."

For Bishop Ramazzini, it's more personal. "The reason I am committed to all of this is that I see the suffering of my people. I can't remain indifferent when I see this—not as a human, not as a Christian, even less as a bishop."


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