Bird Friendly coffee

What is Bird Friendly coffee?

Bird Friendly logoBird Friendly is a certification created by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC), which is part of the National Zoo based in Washington, D.C. Bird Friendly standards are the strictest of the third-party environmental standards. Certified coffees carry this seal.

What are the environmental standards?

The SMBC requires that producers meet the requirements for organic certification first, and then meet additional criteria to ensure they are maintaing the forest cover that provides habitat for birds and other wildlife. As a result, Bird Friendly coffee offers all the environmental benefits of organic coffee.

The additional standards, however, require a minimum of 40 percent shade coverage and also make recommendations for the diversity and size of trees that make up the forest canopy. These standards ensure a variety of habitats that supports a wealth of wildlife. Surveys by biologists have found that a shade coffee plantation is home to almost as much biodiversity as untouched forest.

What are the labor standards?

The Bird Friendly standards are not intended to address labor conditions, but the requirement for organic certification does create some benefits for workers, as described in the organic coffee section.

What's the downside?

There are costs involved, as with any of the third-party certification programs. In many cases, the obstacle to Bird Friendly certification is not with the SMBC's requirements, but with the difficulty and cost of obtaining organic certification, which may require years of effort and expenses before there is any return for the grower.

In 2007, the SMBC changed its rules so that Bird Friendly certification of coffee farms lasts three years, instead of one. The SMBC reasonably notes that forest cover changes little from one year to the next, and reducing the number of inspections helps control costs for the farmers. The farm still must be inspected annually for organic certification.

One drawback for the consumer is that Bird Friendly coffee can be hard to find.

How does the coffee I buy get certified as Bird Friendly?

The SMBC works with inspection agencies in various countries. A producer who wants to be certified must schedule and pay for an inspection by one of those agencies.

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