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Farm organizations challenge food companies on sustainability actions

Letter to Dannon protests company's move to deselect GMOs.

Leaders of the nation’s top farming organizations joined together this week in urging food companies to recognize that their sustainability goals, intended to reduce the use of natural resources, cannot be achieved without the use of modern agricultural practices, despite any misleading assertions to the contrary.

The focus on deceptive food company marketing claims is in response to Dannon’s recent pledge to eliminate the use of safe and proven crop technology to feed the dairy cows that supply milk for its yogurt products. Dannon is one of several prominent food manufacturers and retailers that has taken steps in recent years to eliminate genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from its supply, claiming that such a move improves the sustainability of its products.

In a letter sent Oct. 17 to Mariano Lozano, head of Dannon’s U.S. operations, the farm groups said the company’s strategy to eliminate GMOs “is the exact opposite of the sustainable agriculture that you claim to be seeking. Your pledge would force farmers to abandon safe, sustainable farming practices that have enhanced farm productivity over the last 20 years while greatly reducing the carbon footprint of American agriculture.”

Randy Mooney, chairman of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and a dairy farmer from Rogersville, Mo., said, “This is just marketing puffery, not any true innovation that improves the actual product offered to consumers. What’s worse is that removing GMOs from the equation is harmful to the environment – the opposite of what these companies claim to be attempting to achieve.”

The letter was co-signed by the farmer leaders of NMPF, the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Soybean Assn., American Sugarbeet Growers Assn., National Corn Growers Assn. (NCGA) and U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA). Collectively, the six organizations represent hundreds of thousands of farmers and food producers across the U.S.

The groups agree that biotechnology plays an important role in reducing the environmental footprint of agriculture and challenged as disingenuous the assertion that sustainability is enhanced by stopping the use of GMOs.

During the last 20 years, advancements in agricultural technology have allowed farmers to use fewer pesticides, herbicides, fossil fuels and water and prevent the loss of soil to erosion, they noted. Taking away this technology is akin to turning back the clock and using outdated, 20th-century technology to run a business.

“Farming organizations are standing up for the technology that supports continuous improvement in farm sustainability. Farmers and ranchers have grown GMO crops over the past 20 years precisely because biotechnology helps farmers preserve resources for the future,” said USFRA chair Nancy Kavazanjian, a corn, soybean and wheat farmer in Beaver Dam, Wis. “When food companies are making sourcing decisions, farm groups encourage them to recognize that modern, conventional agriculture is sustainable.”

Numerous conclusive studies have come out over the last 20 years proving the safety of genetically modified (GM) foods and the environmental benefits of growing GM crops. Most recently, 109 Nobel laureates announced their support of biotechnology, citing a study from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering & Medicine concluding that “the study committee found no substantiated evidence of a difference in risks to human health between current commercially available genetically engineered (GE) crops and conventionally bred crops, nor did it find conclusive cause-and-effect evidence of environmental problems from the GE crops.”

Wesley Spurlock, president of NCGA, said despite overwhelming evidence supporting the safety GM crops and their benefits to the environment, marketers of some major food brands, such as Dannon, have aligned themselves against biotechnology. “Farming organizations believe in open and honest communication with consumers and allowing people to make informed choices in the market, but we cannot sit by while certain food companies spread misinformation under the guise of a marketing campaign.”

USFRA chief executive officer Randy Krotz added, “When food companies directly mislead consumers, as has been done in this example with Dannon, individual farmers as well as farm organizations will continue to assertively defend our critical technologies.”

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