Coffee is the second largest U.S. import. At the University, one of the largest purchasers of coffee is Food Procurement Services, the agency in charge of supplying food for campus dining halls. The University of Michigan Environmental Justice Group is working to get the University”s dining halls to serve Fair Trade Coffee and thereby help promote social responsibility. The University should strongly consider serving Fair Trade-certified coffee.

Most coffee comes from small farmers that sell their crop to large distributors like Folgers for little to no profit. While coffee prices in the United States have increased, the price at which farmers can sell their crop has fallen to below a sustainable rate. This is partly because large companies feel no urge to pay for the coffee at a decent rate because of the near oversupply of coffee in the world market.

Not all farmers, however, are forced to sell their harvest at no profit. There is a growing movement toward distributing what is called Fair Trade Coffee. Coffee labeled Fair Trade is certified by independent agencies, such as Global Exchange, following several guidelines: It is purchased at a higher price from local farmers that guarantees them a living wage and provides an equitable and fair long-term partnership between consumers in North America and producers all across the tropics.

This method of distribution cuts out the middle man as much as possible and therefore does not significantly raise the purchase price for consumers in the United States. Today, the main reason Fair Trade Coffee costs about $1 more than regular coffee is a result of little demand and thus an increased expense to provide it. If demand increased, the price would drop.

UMEJG conducted surveys across campus and the results show that overall students would like to have Fair Trade Coffee. According to UMEJG, the University has responded favorably to the proposed switch and is in the process of determining if it is economically feasible for the Food Procurement Service”s already tight budget.

At present, the coffee served in the dining halls is about as cheap as it gets. The cheap price often means a significant lack in quality, leading many to complain about the taste. As a result, many students don”t drink the coffee that is offered. Fair Trade Coffee, usually grown on small farms and processed in smaller batches often tastes and blends better, allowing for a little coffee to go a long way.

Despite all the merits of Fair Trade Coffee, the University should not sacrifice other, more nutritional elements of the dining halls in order to serve socially responsible coffee. The University must make every effort to find Fair Trade Coffee that fits budgetary constraints. However, the University”s food service has already enacted several cost cutting measures such as reduced dining hours and fewer meal choices that hint at strict budget limits.

Another alternative for conscientious coffee drinkers is to go to the various cafs in Ann Arbor that serve Fair Trade Coffee. UMEJG is also focusing its attention on commercial intuitions to encourage them to serve Fair Trade Coffee. If students show significant demand for it, vendors are sure to respond students should take this opportunity to encourage the industry to trade fairly.

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