Farm Groups Denounce Dannon's Anti-GMO 'Marketing Flimflam'

October 18, 2016 06:34 PM
Dannon Yogurt

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.

Safe GMOs

“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.

Runaway Engine

“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.

To contact the reporter on this story: Megan Durisin in Chicago at To contact the editors responsible for this story: Simon Casey at, Robin Saponar, Millie Munshi

©2016 Bloomberg L.P.

Back to news



Spell Check

Craigville, IN
10/19/2016 07:46 AM

  This is what the consumer hears from Big Ag: "We have paid enough scientists to prove that GMO's are completely safe. If you don't believe what our paid scientists are saying, then you are stupid and you should just have to buy what we want to sell you because..... you're just stupid and this is what we want to produce!" Wow! What a completely convincing argument....not. In the meantime, they see how many people that they know and their kids have food intolerances. And they intuitively know that our society did not have these issues 30 years ago. Just keep deluding yourselves and believing that paid "science" and bought-and-paid-for politicians making laws will succeed in shoving an unwanted product down the throat of an unwilling consumer. If that was a game winning strategy, then Cargil, Bunge, and ADM would not be now moving ahead at full speed with dedicated non-GMO divisions. I presume that they're just not smart enough to ignore a profitable market that's waiting to be served. Those fools must be listening to actual marketing people instead of all the "scientists". What an ignorant way to run a business.......listening to your customers. Maybe the USSR had it right. We will tell you what to think. We will take your money, whether you want to give it to us or not. And we will tell you what you can buy, whether you want to buy it or not. And if you want to complain, well, there is that knock on the door in the middle of the night, and then... no more complaints.


Corn College TV Education Series


Get nearly 8 hours of educational video with Farm Journal's top agronomists. Produced in the field and neatly organized by topic, from spring prep to post-harvest. Order now!


Market Data provided by
Brought to you by Beyer