What's really in your cuppa?

What's really in your cuppa?
The British cuppa is an institution. But how many of us have actually wondered what goes into our favourite drink, or where the principal ingredients come from? The Ecologist investigates

Each day, millions of us take a small bag, drop it into a cup, pour in boiling water, and add a dash of milk plus a spoonful of sugar. We start the day with it, we end the day with it, we serve it socially or in times of distress. The great British cup of tea – or cuppa as it is more widely known – is an institution.


The issues that lie behind production and supply of most everyday food staples – from cocoa to coffee, beef to bacon, soya to salad, prawns to pineapples – have been investigated and documented (many of them here in the Ecologist) but it seemed that no-one had taken the classic British cuppa as a whole, examining tea, milk and sugar simultaneously. 

The Ecologist commissioned this special report to do just that. We sent Verity Largo to Kenya to investigate life for some of the thousands of estate workers who live on plantations supplying two of our favourite teas – PG Tips and Lipton. Owners of the Kericho plantation, Unilever, and the Dutch research outfit SOMO, paint two very different pictures of conditions at the Rainforest Alliance-certified estate: read our exclusive article to judge for yourself.

Sam Campbell reports from Cambodia on the country's growing 'sugar boom' that is leading to increasing conflict over land and resources as rural communties clash with the new breed of 'sugar barons'. Tom Levitt reports on why our love affair with milk may not be a good idea; Jim Wickens travels to the US to examine the rise of 'mega dairies''; WSPA's Suzi Morris argues that the recent victory against the UK's own 'super-dairy' at Nocton is only the beginning; Will McLennan outlines the global costs of both tea and sugar; and Seb Klier from War On Want looks at ethical supply chains. You can also watch a film by War On Want examining the hidden costs of tea.

If all this leaves you wanting to do something – or wanting to know more – we've also provided a useful guide to campaign groups tackling some of these issues, and offered our Green Living editor's pick of the best alternatives to cows milk and bog-standard tea. You can download all these articles in PDF form here.

This is the first in a major new series of special investigations planned for 2011. We'll be tackling a number of important environmental and related issues in the coming months with a mixture of hard hitting reportage, undercover investigations and unique commentary. If you have comments, feedback – or information or suggestions on issues you think we should be investigating – please get in touch with us by emailing: editorial@theecologist.org


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Special report PG Tips and Lipton tea hit by 'sexual harassment and poor conditions'
Unilever and the Rainforest Alliance deny female employees at the Kericho tea plantation in Kenya are subjected to sexual harassment. But Dutch research outfit SOMO paints a very different picture of life for some working at the plantation? Verity Largo visits Kenya to investigate
Special report Revealed: the bitter taste of Cambodia’s sugar boom
Sugar may seem innocuous enough, but sweet-toothed Western consumers could be fuelling conflict between poor farming communities and big business with every spoonful. Sam Campbell reports from Phnom Penh
Special report Milk: why the white stuff leaves a bad taste
Unlike tea and sugar, the fresh milk we drink with our cuppa is likely to come from farms in the UK. But as Tom Levitt reports, there are still serious environmental and animal welfare problems associated with the UK dairy sector
Special report Sugar: why our favourite sweetener is not so sweet
Sugar can be produced from both sugar beet and sugarcane. Sugarcane production is of particular concern in terms of environmental degradation and human rights abuses, reports William McLennan
Special report Environmental damage and human rights abuses blight global tea sector
Human rights violations have been reported at plantations in virtually all major tea producing countries, while tea growing itself has a profound effect on the local environment. William McLennan reports

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