Dannon pledge redefines relationship with dairy farmers

Cows supplying milk for company will be fed non-GMO feed.

Dannon, the nation’s leading yogurt maker, announced April 27 a pledge to its farmers, retail customers and consumers to further improve sustainable agriculture practices for its milk supply, to increase transparency for its portfolio of products and to evolve to more natural and fewer ingredients for its flagship brands.

Dannon’s pledge includes committing to products coming from a more sustainable agriculture industry by working with its dairy farmer partners and their suppliers to progressively implement the use of sustainable agriculture practices and technology that leads to better soil health, better water management, an increase in biodiversity and a decrease in carbon emissions.

Additionally, the company plans to bring all products from its three flagship brands — Dannon, Oikos and Danimals — towards the use of fewer and more natural ingredients that are not synthetic and not genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

“Importantly, Dannon also commits that for these brands the feed of its farmers’ cows will be non-GMO, within a transition period of three years,” the company stated. “The ambition is to evolve the remaining brands over time.”

To ensure full transparency for consumers, Dannon said it plans to label the presence of GMO ingredients in its products by December 2017. “In the meantime, if one state implements a GMO labeling requirement, since Dannon favors a nationwide labeling system, it will label the presence of GMOs nationwide according to the state requirements,” the company added.

The first impact of the changes will be visible starting in July 2016, when the company will move to more natural ingredients and no GMOs for Oikos, Danimals and Dannon. These brands represent 50% of Dannon’s current volume.

For its foundation ingredient – milk – Dannon said it is going “one big step" further. Starting in 2017 and completing the transformation by the end of 2018, the company announced that it will work with its farmer partners to ensure that the cows supplying milk for these flagship products will be fed non-GMO feed — a first for a leading non-organic yogurt maker.

The company’s ambition is to also evolve the other brands in its portfolio, beyond Dannon, Oikos and Danimals, over time.

“The changes will enable consumers to make everyday choices for themselves, their family and children consistent with their wish for natural and sustainable eating options, choosing which agricultural and environmental model they favor,” Dannon said.

According to the company, the pledge evolved from relationships the company forged with its dairy farmers. Dannon began to evolve its milk supply model in 2010 to work directly with the farms that provide its milk.

“We created a new way to work with dairy farmers to improve our shared sustainability priorities,” said Mariano Lozano, president and chief executive officer of The Dannon Co. “Our ambition is to produce healthy food that is affordable, creates economic and social value and nurtures natural ecosystems through sustainable agriculture. Although our journey is independent from that of our organic sister companies, we have learned a lot from and are inspired by Stonyfield and Happy Family.”

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As expressed in the company’s pledge, Dannon said its priorities for agriculture focus on soil, water, biodiversity, carbon, energy and animal welfare. Dannon has already started work on the first phase of its commitment by encouraging practices such as rotating crops and managing fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide applications in the production of feed for a portion of the cows providing its milk supply.

“Dannon’s pledge to use more sustainable agricultural practices with their producer partners will drive innovation and improvements and represents a bold and important step toward greater transparency,” said Dr. Molly Jahn, agronomy professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and former deputy undersecretary of research, education and economics at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Dannon’s leadership in sustainability sets an ambitious benchmark for other dairy companies.”

Jim Mulhern, president and chief executive officer of the National Milk Producers Federation, said in a statement, “It is disappointing that Dannon is trying to differentiate itself with consumers by adopting an anti-science position on genetically modified (GM) animal feed. The evidence is clear that not only are GM crops safe; they also provide broad environmental benefits by reducing soil loss, as well as reducing farmers' use of water, pesticides and fuel. Farmers have overwhelmingly adopted GM crop technology precisely because it increases productivity and improves agricultural sustainability.”

Mulhern added that all of NMPF’s member cooperatives are working to meet evolving consumer expectations for additional transparency and sustainability in the food supply.

“We are thankful for those companies that are working collaboratively with our co-ops and the dairy community to address consumer questions about modern farming with factual information," he said. "Fortunately, most of the dairy supply chain recognizes the great work and commitment of America’s dairy farmers to sustainability and animal care.”

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