Farmers urged to quickly rebut non-GMO vows like the 'Dannon pledge'

By Bill Tomson

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



NASHVILLE, Tenn., Nov. 2, 2016 - Farmers need to stick together and speak up quickly when companies like Dannon make pledges to avoid genetically modified organisms, Land O'Lakes CEO Chris Policinski told a packed audience of dairy producers and industry officials today at a conference in Nashville.

When companies make “absence claims” like no GMOs, Policinski said, it damages the wider food sector by implying that products made with genetically modified ingredients are somehow less healthy than foods made without them.

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Dannon in April announced its pledge to eliminate genetically modified grains from the diets of the cows that produce the milk for the company's yogurt. It wasn't until October that the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) , the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Soybean Association, American Sugarbeet Growers, National Corn Growers Association and the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance responded in a letter criticizing Dannon's position.

But farmers need to unite faster to counter perceptions that the use of GMOs is less healthy, Policinski said.

“We need to have an opinion around how food is marketed, and when we see marketing claims - particularly absence claims that imply a health benefit that isn't there - we should call that out as weak marketing,” Policinski said to loud applause. “Secondly, when that absence claim, whatever it might be, causes farmers to lose a safe, proven technology … we should cry foul. We should talk about authentic sustainability, which is continuing to use safe, proven technologies.”

Policinski and others have argued that using GMOs is actually the more responsible and sustainable way of farming and if GMO critics succeeded in killing the technology, farmers and the environment would suffer.

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“We doubt that informed consumers want to see an increase in insecticide applications that will be needed to fulfill your pledge,” the farm groups argued in their October letter to Dannon. “Conventional crops grown before the advent of agricultural biotechnology required extensive and intensive pesticide use, pesticides that your pledge would force farmers to return to using.”

Farmers need to begin saying that kind of thing more often in the face of companies like Dannon and others that market their food with non-GMO promises, Policinski said.

“The dialogue has been kind of one-way, where farmers have listened to questions and gone to the coffee shop to talk about the answers,” Policinski told Agri-Pulse in an interview on the sidelines of the conference, hosted by NMPF, the United Dairy Industry Association and the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board. “We have to pleasantly, but assertively, engage in the conversation.” 

(Corrects list of companies cited as those marketing their products with non-GMO promises, in eighth paragraph.) 

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