Dannon faces uphill battle to rid dairy feed of GMOs

By Bill Tomson

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, April 27, 2016 - Dannon, in an effort to woo consumers who are becoming increasingly concerned about all aspects of how their food is made, has made a promise that will be difficult to keep: It plans to eliminate all genetically modified grains from the diets of the cows that produce the milk used to make most of the company's yogurt.

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Products under the company's Dannon brand will be completely produced with milk from non-GMO-fed cows by the end of 2017, and products under the Oikos and Danimals brands will make the complete transition by the end of 2018, President and CEO Mariano Lozano announced Wednesday.

That will mean that by Dec. 31, 2018, about half of all the milk the company buys annually for its U.S. products will come from more than 50,000 cows fed solely on non-GMO feed, Lozano told Agri-Pulse.

“Because most cow feed in the US is genetically modified today, we are also working with feed suppliers and our farmer partners to start planting non-GMO feed as soon as possible to fulfill our needs,” Dannon says in the “pledge” it released Wednesday. “Once these changes are implemented, these products from the three brand families will contain milk from cows provided non-GMO feed.”

It's not just a steep mountain the company and its milk suppliers will have to climb to reach that goal, Lozano said - it's more like going up Mt. Everest.

The main hurdle, he said, will be for his suppliers to find non-GMO seed in a country where nearly all of the corn and soybeans are produced with biotech seed, and most of the crops from traditional seeds are exported.

Ken McCarty, speaking for one of those suppliers - McCarty Family Farms - said his operation grows 20 percent of the feed it needs and is working with local farmers that provide the rest. But it will still be tough to get to the point where he can feed his 8,500 cows only non-GMO feed, he added.

“From the grain perspective, we don't have that fully figured out,” McCarty told Agri-Pulse, “but that's part of the excitement and we believe that we have the right partners to help us in sourcing all that.”

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Despite the uncertainty about where Dannon's milk suppliers will be getting all of that non-GMO feed, Lozano said the company is committed to making sure the milk it buys and the feed its suppliers buy will be domestic in origin.

He recognized that the availability of non-GMO feed is very limited and that it take a lot of effort to encourage farmers to grow the non-GMO grains, but stressed he believes it is possible and will grow easier over time. As to the added cost, Lozano agreed that it would be more expensive, but did not comment on whether shoppers would have to pay more for the company's yogurt.

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