Danone in spotlight over non-GMO marketing in US

Danone in spotlight over non-GMO marketing in US

Groups representing dairy and arable farmers in the US have written a public letter to the head of Dannon, Danone's US business, criticising how the company is marketing products made without genetically modified ingredients.

The letter stresses "modern agricultural practices" are required if companies are to realise their goal to reduce the use of natural resources, despite "any misleading assertions to the contrary".

The group is critical of Dannon for announcing it was taking steps to eliminate genetically-modified ingredients from its supply chain and claiming the move would improve the sustainability of its products.

The letter, sent to Dannon CEO Mariano Lozano, said Danone's strategy to eliminate GMOs "is the exact opposite of the sustainable agriculture that you claim to be seeking". The letter read: "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."

Signatories to the letter include the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Soybean Association, the American Sugarbeet Growers Association, the National Corn Growers Association, the National Milk Producers Federation and the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance.

In July, Dannon launched its first ranges of non-GMO yogurts in the US under the Dannon, Oikos and Danimals brands, with plans to develop its non-GMO products over time.

However, the the company's labelling policy was dismissed as "marketing puffery" by Randy Mooney, a dairy farmer from Rogersville, Missouri and chairman of the National Milk Producers Federation. "This is just marketing puffery, not any true innovation that improves the actual product offered to consumers," Mooney said. "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."

In response to the letter, Dannon said it had earned its leadership of the US yogurt market through the variety of products it makes and "the integrity with which we make them". 

The company said it was surprised to receive "a divisive and misinformed letter about our efforts to continue to grow America's enjoyment of dairy products, including yogurt". 

Dannon said it believes the currently-approved GMOs are safe and says sustainable agricultural practices can be achieved with or without the use of GMOs. However, Dannon said there is a "growing consumer preference for non-GMO ingredients and food in the US and insisted: "We want to use the strong relationships we have with our farmer partners to provide products that address this consumer demand."

Dannon said it had committed to be "transparent with American shoppers about which products include GMO ingredients and which don't". The company added it was ahead of schedule on its labelling programme and would be in a position to label on-pack the presence of GMO ingredients by the end of 2016.

"We believe strongly that the unparalleled range of choice that Danone's US affiliates provide, from organic, to non-GMO ingredients, and to conventional dairy is a reason to celebrate rather than criticise," Lozano said.