Civet cat coffee's animal cruelty secrets

  • 13 September 2013
  • From the section London
Media captionCoffee firms say wild civet cats eat the ripest beans which gain a desirable flavour - but as Chris Rogers reports, many are kept in captivity

Animal cruelty during the production of one of the world's priciest coffees has been exposed by a BBC investigation.

Kopi luwak is made from coffee beans excreted by Indonesian palm civets - small, mongoose-like creatures.

But undercover reporters in Indonesia witnessed civets held in battery-cage conditions to produce the coffee.

And experts say they are "totally convinced" kopi luwak from caged animals ends up on the London market.

Kopi luwak has surged in popularity, featuring on the Oprah Winfrey Show and in the 2007 film The Bucket List.

Many retailers sell the product as "wild", sourced in the jungle from the droppings of free-roaming animals.

In restaurants its price can reach £60 per cup, with claims of wild origin attracting the premium.

Posing as buyers, the BBC visited farmers in Sumatra, Indonesia.

Reporters witnessed battery-style conditions, animals in cramped cages and a severely injured civet cat, contradicting the "wild" claims marketed to consumers.

Farmers in Takengon, north Sumatra, told the BBC they supplied to exporters whose produce ends up in Europe and Asia.

After viewing secretly recorded footage of caged civet cats, Dr Neil D'Cruze, of the World Society for the Protection of Animals, said they appeared "absolutely depressed and miserable".

Image caption The BBC secretly filmed civet cats being held in battery-style conditions

He continued: "These wild animals have behaviours they need and want to express.

"The cages are completely barren, they're filthy, there's nowhere to climb."

Tony Wild, former coffee trader and author of 'Coffee: A Dark History', said he is "totally convinced" caged produce ends up being sold in London.

He believes marketing kopi luwak as "wild" is often misleading.

Mr Wild explained: "The whole reason everybody regurgitates that story is that by being incredibly rare, you can keep a ridiculously high price."

'Cannot control it'

While undercover in Takengon, the BBC met battery-style farmers who claimed to sell kopi luwak to Sari Makmur - an Indonesian export company based in Medan - for use in its 'Wild Luwak' coffee product.

But Sari Makmur's vice president, Andry Spranoto, admitted to undercover BBC reporters the contents of 'Wild Luwak' cannot be controlled.

The firm explained it asked farmers whether it was wild and the farmers said that it was, but it did not check.

"Frankly speaking, we are not keen on selling this Wild Luwak, as we cannot control it," Mr Spranoto admitted.

Posing as traders, undercover researchers toured the firm's estate near Sidikalang, where it was claimed coffee beans were sourced from free-roaming civets in the jungle.

Image caption This civet cat - caged by farmers unconnected to Sari Makmur - had a severely injured paw

Sari Makmur's Wahana estate operation is unconnected to the civet farms or cruelty witnessed by the BBC in Sumatra.

The premium coffee product from the estate - named 'Wahana Luwak' - is sold as "wild" by luxury department store Harrods.

It reaches the Knightsbridge store via a chain consisting of an independent importer and another supplier.

Mr Spranoto, said of Wahana Luwak: "It's wild, of course it's wild, but the coffee is coming 100% from Wahana because we can trace it."

He assured undercover reporters there were no enclosed civets on the Wahana estate and a breeding programme ended in 2007.

The BBC also contacted two UK importers of Sari Makmur's coffee, who confirmed they visited the farm in 2011 but had not been shown enclosed civets.

But a worker from the estate, who asked not to be identified, revealed the presence of enclosed civet cats on the estate. He claimed they were treated well.

Cement floor

"We put each luwak in their own space," said the worker. "The space is two by one-and-a-half meters and the cement floor is cleaned, hosed every day."

There is no suggestion of animal cruelty on the estate.

When the BBC later approached Sari Makmur with its findings, the company confirmed the presence of enclosed cats but insisted coffee from caged animals is not sold.

It claimed produce for sale came entirely from "wild" animals.

The company said in a statement: "We place wood houses and fruits in the vicinity to attract the wild civet cats to roam around our Wahana farm in order to produce this coffee.

"In our caged civet cats programme, we study the animal behaviour, diet and its breeding behaviour.

"In order to sustain or meet the demand for this market, we breed our own civet cats and then release them in our farm when they are mature enough."

It added: "We do not sell any of the coffee beans from the caged luwak as it is against our business model."

The BBC asked Harrods whether it was concerned the company appeared to keep caged civets out of sight of Western visitors.

A Harrods spokeswoman said: "Harrods works closely with all its suppliers to ensure the highest standards of ethical sourcing, production and trade are maintained. This is carried out through strict auditing procedures.

"Our exclusive supplier… has given Harrods every assurance the coffee we are provided with is organic, and comes from wild palm civets."

Harrods said it was working with its supplier to investigate claims made in the BBC report.

The spokeswoman added: "If necessary, we will review the sale of this product."

Sari Makmur's Wild Luwak product - the content of which Mr Spranoto admitted was "uncontrolled" - is not on sale at Harrods.

You can watch the full report on Our World on the BBC News Channel at 05:30 and 21:30 BST on 14 September and on Inside Out London on BBC One on 16 September at 19:30 BST.

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