Several major U.S. farm organizations said they are “troubled” by The Dannon Co.’s shift to using fewer genetically-modified ingredients, a move the company included as part of a pledge to offer more products from a sustainable food system.
A letter signed by groups including the National Corn Growers Association, American Farm Bureau Federation and American Soybean Association said the company’s move requires farmers to “abandon safe, sustainable farming practices that have enhanced farm productivity over the last 20 years” and represents a “major step backward” in a sustainable crop supply.
White Plains, New York-based Dannon, owned by Danone SA, announced in April a pledge toward creating products from “more sustainable agriculture” and said it would label GMO ingredients on products by December 2017. Items from the Dannon, Oikos and Danimals brand will use more natural and non-GMO ingredients, including in the feed of dairy cows. The company in July unveiled its first GMO-free yogurts and said Danone’s acquisition this year of WhiteWave Foods Co. may accelerate the push toward ridding its products of the organisms.
The accusations in the letter are “divisive and misinformed,” Dannon said in an e-mailed statement. The company believes its shift will increase choices for consumers and said it is working with farmers to improve soil health and water quality, among other practices.
“Regarding GMO crops, we believe the currently approved GMOs are safe,” Dannon said. “Furthermore, we believe that sustainable agricultural practices can be achieved with or without the use of GMOS. However, we believe there is growing consumer preference for non-GMO ingredients and food in the U.S. and we want to use the strong relationships we have with our farmer partners to provide products that address this consumer demand.”
The agriculture groups sent the letter partly to refute the nature of Dannon’s claim that eliminating GMOs in food production makes products more sustainable, said Chris Galen, a spokesman for the Arlington, Virginia-based National Milk Producers Federation, one of the signers. Crops grown without biotechnology require more insecticides and water, according to the letter.
“In our view, your pledge amounts to marketing flimflam, pure and simple,” the agriculture groups said in the letter, which was addressed to Dannon’s Chief Executive Officer Mariano Lozano. “Though touted with great fanfare as a corporate commitment to sustainability and environmental improvement, in reality the Dannon Pledge amounts to a major step backward in truly sustainable food production. We doubt that you would discard years of productivity improvements by returning to 1990s computer technology to run your business, or revert to 20-year-old transportation, processing or packaging tools.”
While Dannon’s pledge reflects a growing consumer interest toward transparency in what’s in their food and how it’s made, it is unsurprising that farm groups are reacting strongly, Andy Novakovic, professor of agricultural economics at Cornell University, said in a telephone interview. According to government data, 94 percent of U.S. soybeans and 92 percent of corn grown this season used genetically-engineered seed.
“This hits them very close to home and it’s beginning to feel almost like a runaway engine that they need to address very strongly,” Novakovic said. “GMO is probably the poster child for this sort of consumer rejection of things that science has said is safe.”
Foods produced from genetically engineered crops don’t pose additional health risks to humans, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, said in a report earlier this year.
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