Farm groups slam Dannon

Farm coalition claims Dannon's non-GMO stance limits sustainability

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Holstein dairy cattle grazing
(Farm and Dairy file photo)

ARLINGTON, Va. — Farm leaders are urging food companies to recognize that their sustainability goals, intended to reduce the use of natural resources, cannot be achieved without the use of modern agricultural practices.

This focus on food company marketing claims is in response to Dannon’s recent pledge that the milk for its flagship Dannon, Oikos and Danimals brand products will come only from cows that are fed non-genetically modified, or non-GMO, feed. Dannon intends to start and conversion in 2017 and complete the transformation by the end of 2018

One of Dannon’s yogurt plants is located in Auglaize County, Ohio, and the decision could impact the region’s dairy farmers.

Marketing, not reality

In a letter sent Oct. 17 to Mariano Lozano, head of Dannon’s U.S. operations, the farm groups said the company’s strategy to eliminate GMOs “is the exact opposite of the sustainable agriculture that you claim to be seeking. Your pledge would force farmers to abandon safe, sustainable farming practices that have enhanced farm productivity over the last 20 years while greatly reducing the carbon footprint of American agriculture.”

“This is just marketing puffery, not any true innovation that improves the actual product offered to consumers,” said Randy Mooney, chairman of the National Milk Producers Federation, and a dairy farmer from Rogersville, Missouri.

He said removing GMOs from the equation could actually be harmful to the environment — the opposite of what these companies are trying to achieve.

The letter was cosigned by the farmer leaders of the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Soybean Association, American Sugarbeet Growers Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Milk Producers Federation and U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance.

Making the announcement in July that all Dannon products in the U.S. that have GMO ingredients will be clearly labeled as such, CEO Lozano said, “Shoppers are our main ingredient, and what is important to them drives what we do.”

Farm divide

In their letter, the farm groups challenged as “disingenuous” the assertion that sustainability is enhanced by stopping the use of GMO processes. During the last 20 years, they say, advancements in agricultural technology have allowed farmers to use less pesticides and herbicides, fossil fuels, and water, and prevent the loss of soil to erosion.

“Farming organizations are standing up for the technology that supports continuous improvement in farm sustainability,” said Nancy Kavazanjian, chairwoman of U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA), and a corn, soybean and wheat farmer in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. “Farmers and ranchers have grown GMO crops over the past 20 years precisely because biotechnology helps farmers preserve resources for the future.

“When food companies are making sourcing decisions, farm groups encourage them to recognize that modern, conventional agriculture is sustainable.”

Misrepresented

The issue of genetically modified organisms has become hotly debated, and prompted a group of more than 100 Nobel laureates to write a letter to Greenpeace in June in support of GMOs, writing, “Organizations opposed to modern plant breeding, with Greenpeace at their lead, have repeatedly denied these facts and opposed biotechnological innovations in agriculture. They have misrepresented their risks, benefits, and impacts…”

“One thing is clear to us,” said Sir Richard Roberts, who shared the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, during the June news conference, “that there is nothing in our diet which is not genetically modified.”

“Despite overwhelming evidence supporting the safety GMO crops and their benefits to the environment, marketers of some major food brands, such as Dannon, have aligned themselves against biotechnology,” said Wesley Spurlock, president of the National Corn Growers Association.

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