Dannon Accelerates Non-GMO Plans, Gets Pushback From Some Farmers

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Dannon Non-GMOs

Dannon is executing and even accelerating its plan to switch its US milk suppliers from GMO cow feed so the yogurt-maker can support its pledge to use only non-GMO milk for its Dannon, Danimals and Oikos brands by 2018. But the American arm of Paris-based Danone is getting some pushback for its plans from farm groups.

Dannon wants to make as many products as possible without GMOs and, where that’s not yet possible, clearly label its packaging for the presence of GMOs regardless of government requirements, the company has said. In fact, Dannon will disclose the presence of GMO ingredients on products that contain them by the end of this year, ahead of its earlier schedule.

“The changes we are making will enable shoppers to make everyday choices for themselves, their family and children consistent with their wish for more natural eating options, choosing which agricultural and environmental model they favor,” said Dannon CEO Mariano Lozano, in a press release.

The company also hosted a farmer forum in Kentucky this week where executives met with farmers who are pioneering a partnership with Dannon to bring it as much non-GMO milk as possible, as quickly as possible. Another goal was to help supplier farms obtain animal welfare certification and improve water usage.

“We have a dedicated partner in Dannon who we trust and we can rely on for stable pricing,” said Ken McCarty, a co-owner of McCarty Family Farms, in Kansas, one of a handful of outfits on which Dannon relies in the early phase of its plan to promise a contract price for their milk if they’ll make necessary changes. In fact, McCarty has become something of an early poster boy for the Dannon Pledge, appearing with Lozano several times.

Dannon believes “sustainable agricultural practices can be achieved with or without the use of GMOs,” noted Lozano, in the press release. “And we will fulfill the growing consumer preference for yogurt with non-GMO ingredients by continuing to work with the dedicated and extraordinary network of farmer partners we have built.”

Don’t count on members of some national farm groups to join that network, however. A number of them came out earlier this month with harsh criticism of Dannon’s anti-GMO move as a dangerous turning back of the clock on effective and safe farming practices and as simply a marketing gimmick.

“Under the guise of providing consumers more choices, your pledge would force farmers to abandon safe, sustainable farming practices that have enhanced farm productivity over the last 20 years,” said the letter to Dannon from the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Milk Producers Federation and other large farm groups.

“In our view, your pledge amounts to marketing flim-flam, pure and simple. It appears to be an attempt to gain lost sales from your competitors by using fear-based marketing and trendy buzzwords, not through any actual improvements in your products. Neither farmers nor consumers should be used as pawns in food marketing wars.”

Dannon responded by saying it was “surprised to receive a divisive and misinformed letter about our efforts.”

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