(Adds comments from Dannon in paragraphs 7-8, background
By Chris Prentice
NEW YORK Oct 17 A coalition of farmers slammed
Danone SA's U.S. subsidiary on Monday for marketing
new products made without genetically modified ingredients, or
GMOs, as supporting sustainable agriculture.
In a letter to The Dannon Co head Mariano Lozano, groups
representing ranchers, beet sugar, corn, soybean and dairy
farmers said the marketing misleads consumers about genetically
engineered ingredients, which can boost sustainability by
reducing the need for pesticides and water.
The farmers' letter represents one of the most coordinated
moves yet by farmers to fight a wave of food companies including
Hershey Co and General Mills Inc that have
shunned GMO ingredients in some of their products.
Dannon went a step further than other companies when it said
in April it would transition all of the feed for its farmers'
cows to non-GMO within three years as it moved to use non-GMO
ingredients in three of its brands.
The company's pledge will force farmers to take a "step
backward in truly sustainable food production," groups including
the National Corn Growers Association, National Milk Producers
Federation and American Sugarbeet Growers Association said in
Randy Mooney, chairman of the National Milk Producers
Federation, and a dairy farmer from Rogersville, Missouri, said
Dannon's push was "marketing puffery."
A Dannon spokesman said the statements were unfounded.
"We believe that sustainable agricultural practices can be
achieved with or without the use of GMOs," the company said in a
statement, but said that it wants to work with farmers to meet
growing consumer demand for non-GMO ingredients.
Farmers are worried that the yogurt maker's move to use milk
from cows that haven't eaten GMO crops may spark a trend, one
that may prove costly for farmers at a time of low prices for
commodities like milk.
Major U.S. crops like corn and soybeans have been
genetically engineered to introduce traits like resistance to
insects and pesticides. Debate over GMOs heated up this year as
lawmakers moved to make labeling of the ingredients mandatory,
pressed by consumer advocates.
The letter comes as industry members await a rule from the
U.S. Department of Agriculture on a new national labeling
standard for GMO ingredients, one that will likely include what
exactly constitutes a genetically engineered ingredient.
Farmers previously pushed back on Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc
for advertising of its non-GMO ingredients and fought
hard against efforts by states including Vermont to introduce
mandatory labels, saying it stigmatizes the ingredients.
(Reporting by Chris Prentice; Additional reporting by Tom
Polansek and Lisa Baertlein; Editing by Andrew Hay and Cynthia