UPDATE - Dannon responded to the farm groups' critisisms. New reporting appears in italics at the bottom of this story.
Dannon announced earlier this year it will be phasing out GMO ingredients from all of its products over the next three years. That’s all well and good, say six prominent farming organizations – just don’t claim doing so will improve sustainability.
The farm group sent a letter to Dannon head of U.S. operations, Mariano Lozano, questions the company’s decision to remove what it calls “safe and proven crop technology to feed the dairy cows that supply milk for its yogurt products.”
“[Eliminating GMOs] is the exact opposite of the sustainable agriculture that you claim to be seeking,” the letter states, in part. “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.”
That includes farmers using less pesticides, herbicides, fossil fuels and water, according to the letter. Taking away a technology like GMO is the equivalent to “turning back the clock” and using outdated technology to run farm businesses, it argues.
Randy Mooney, Missouri farmer and chair of the National Milk Producers Federation, went so far as to call Dannon’s strategy “marketing puffery.”
“[It lacks] any true innovation that improves the actual product offered to consumers,” he says. “What’s worse is that removing GMOs from the equation is harmful to the environment – the opposite of what these companies claim to be attempting 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.
According to U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance CEO Randy Krotz, when food companies mislead consumers, individual farmers and farm organizations will continue to assertively defend beneficial technologies.
In a statement from April, Dannon announced its “Dannon’s Pledge” initiative, made up of the following three components:
The company will work with dairy farmer partners and suppliers to implement sustainable practices and technology to improve soil health, increase biodiversity, decrease carbon emissions and manage water better.
The company will phase out GMO and synthetic feed over the next three years.
By December 2017, the company plans to label the presence of any GMO ingredients in its products.
Lozano says the initiative was largely inspired by Dannon’s organic sister companies, Stonyfield and Happy Family.
“While this commitment is ambitious, we believe it’s necessary to continue to serve Americans using a sustainable and transparent model,” he says.
The ag industry organizations’ letter to Dannon counters: “We strongly support open, honest and transparent engagement with consumers, and the right of customers to make informed choices about the products they buy. But we are troubled by the disingenuous approach embodied in the Dannon Pledge.”
Dannon wasted no time in assembling a response to the farm groups’ letter, arguing that sustainability can be achieved either with or without GMO technology; its marketing approach is merely following consumer trends.
“We believe there is growing consumer preference for non-GMO ingredients and food in the US and we want to use the strong relationships we have with our farmer partners to provide products that address this consumer demand,” the letter states, in part.
Lozano adds that more choice in the marketplace is not a bad thing.
“We believe strongly that the unparalleled range of choice that Danone's U.S. affiliates provide, from organic, to non-GMO ingredients, and to conventional dairy is a reason to celebrate rather than criticize,” he says.