US dairy giant Dean Foods has moved swiftly to defend its sourcing policy after fierce criticism from research group The Cornucopia Institute.


Dean Foods, which earlier this week agreed to buy European soy food business Alpro, has been rapped by Cornucopia for helping create a shortage of organic soybeans in the US by importing cheaper ingredients from China.


The company’s sourcing of ingredients for its Silk soymilk brand was highlighted for criticism. Cornucopia said Dean Foods, upon acquiring the Silk brand, had told US producers of organic soybeans that they had to match the “rock-bottom” prices offered by growers in China.


“When agribusiness corporations enter the organic market, like Dean Foods when it bought the Silk soymilk brand, they sometimes look abroad for cheaper imports or abandon organics altogether, rather than maintain their commitment to supporting domestic organic farmers,” Cornucopia farm and food policy analyst Charlotte Vallaeys said.


Mark Kastel, senior farm policy analyst at Cornucopia, added: “Companies like Dean Foods complain that there aren’t enough organic soybeans grown in the US, yet they took an active role in creating this shortage by refusing to work with American farmers when they had the chance.”


Dean Foods, however, insisted that all of the soybeans used for Silk are sourced from North America.


“Dean Foods has a responsible, sustainable approach to sourcing and will continue to build on the approach that is already in place,” the largest dairy processor in the US told just-food.


The company also refuted a further claim from Cornucopia that certain Silk products are processed with “toxic” chemicals.


“Silk does not use hexane at any point in the soymilk or soy creamer production process. None of the ingredients that are in Silk products use hexane,” Dean Foods insisted.


In a research report – Behind the Bean: The Heroes and Charlatans of the Organic Soy Industry and the Organic Soy Scorecard – Cornucopia also claimed to “help consumers differentiate between the brands that are truly committed to organic values, from those that aren’t”, Kastel said.


Silk was handed a ‘no bean’ rating out of five in Cornucopia’s report but Dean Foods was quick to dismiss the research.


“We do not participate in Cornucopia Institute’s industry surveys, as we believe the information gathered by Cornucopia Institute for the Soybean Scorecard is not representative of the soy industry,” Dean Foods said.


“We chose not to participate in the exercise because of the inherent bias and lack of objectivity demonstrated by Cornucopia Institute. In the current economy, publishing information that may confuse consumers and customers could lead to lessened demand for soy products.”


Dean Foods refused to be drawn on the details behind the sourcing practices at Belgium-based soy business Alpro.


“We are so early in our partnership that we are not discussing these details. Because the company will remain a stand alone business we don’t anticipate Alpro changing its sourcing practices,” the company said.