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coffee trends: The Health Factor

Free Trade and the Coffee Exporters

April 1, 2008
By Brian Martell


For a few years now, studies have been done extolling the health
virtues of coffee. The once vilified drink that was supposed to be
carcinogenic has a new, more positive light shone on it with such
claims as reducing the risk of kidney disease to protecting people from

For a few years now, studies have been done extolling the health virtues of coffee. The once vilified drink that was supposed to be carcinogenic has a new, more positive light shone on it with such claims as reducing the risk of kidney disease to protecting people from Alzheimer’s.

While this is good for the industry in general, it seems looking for new “healthful” products has become a full-time occupation with many boomers trying to re-trace the steps of Ponce de Leon. As such, we have seen an influx of a back-to-basics approach that is supposed to be equated with “better for you.”

Observe how many brands of products now carry the claims “all natural,”


“organic” or “GMO-free,” as if any of these claims actually had hard proof in and of themselves to being healthful.

Let’s look at these claims as they stand:  “all natural” in the true sense of the phrase means not-man-made; hardly something that can be put on any consumer item unless you are selling tree bark in bulk. What it has come to mean is that no artificial preservatives have been added to the product to stop “natural” mold from taking hold of the food and naturally poisoning the consumer. “Unnatural” or “artificial,” therefore can be seen as either an additive or as a process, for example, the pasteurization process for milk.

For those readers outside of Ontario, there is currently a debate raging about a farmer north of London who sells raw (unpasteurized) milk to consumers who believe that the milk is either healthier or tastes better. Health officials raided his farm and shut down his operation. The whole issue has gone all the way to the premier’s office with his own cabinet members having diverging opinions about raw milk.

Now to those who believe un-pasteurized milk tastes better, there can be no argument, as there is no objective way of defining what tastes good to whom. However, to those who speak to the health aspect of raw milk, they should be reminded of the scourge wreaked upon Canadians in the early- to mid-part of the last century by TB, appropriately referred to at the time as “consumption” (it literally consumes its victims until they die). TB is caused by a bacterial infection that can come from drinking unpasteurized milk and can be communicated from one

person to another through the air. And while TB is now treatable, the strains currently mutating in high risk environments may prove to be harder to treat, if treatable at all. There is little living memory of what TB wrought on Western societies, but it needs to be noted that in the last 200 years, over one billion people died from TB.

The term organic, even to those in the organic industry, does not make a claim that the product is more healthful than a traditional product by virtue of the organic status. The true measure of organic farming has to do with the belief in sustainable agricultural practices. The perception, however, is that they are more healthful because there are no nasty pesticides or fertilizers used in the agricultural stage of the products journey to dinner table.

Perhaps the hysteria against man made chemicals in agriculture reached its apogee with Alar in the late ’80s. Alar was a product used primarily in the apple industry to enhance the colour and regulate the growth of apples to improve their marketability. A study done in the mid ’80s suggested there might be a connection between fruit produced with Alar and cancer. Immediately, there was a stampede to ban Alar and indeed, some states did just that, while others encouraged a voluntary ban by growers. Eventually, the sole company that produced Alar stopped production for all food applications in 1989, even after it was revealed that initial studies failed to point out the amount of Alar-treated apple juice necessary to develop a risk of cancer was in excess of 20,000 litres per day per person. Today, the American Council on Science and Health uses the term “Alar Scare” as a metaphor referring to any irrational, emotional public response to a product based on propaganda.

GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) have been labelled as “frankenfood” or ticking time bombs with potentially planet-wide, catastrophic consequences. And yet, mankind has been genetically altering agricultural products for centuries through hybrids and the like (grapefruits are a good example).

Until recently, hybrids were the only way to achieve genetic modification, but modern scientific processes have allowed for greater crossover than possible before. Golden Rice, a GMO that has a vitamin A component, is a good example of this new technology. Rice, to which there are thousands of different types, does not naturally have vitamin A as part of its nutritional makeup. In many parts of the developing world where rice is an essential staple, the lack of vitamin A in diets has led to millions of people developing ocular disease leading to blindness. GM Golden Rice offers a solution to reduce the numbers of people suffering from the disease.

The developers of Golden Rice have established a program to license Golden Rice for free to any farmer who is not part of a larger commercial enterprise (read agribusiness) in an effort to get the crop into the hands of the people who would benefit from it the most.

While we search for healthful choices in our diets, it is important to understand that, like coffee, many of the foods we currently consume are good for us just the way they are.o

Questions or comments?  E-mail Brian at