Dannon switches to non-GM

A food manufacturer’s pledge to make yogurt with non-genetically modified ingredients has raised the ire of U.S. farm groups and the eyebrows of a Canadian grain industry executive.

Dannon is transforming its Danimals, Oikos and Dannon brands of yogurt to contain no GM ingredients. Those three brands account for half of the company’s sales.

Cows that supply Dannon’s milk for the three flagship brands will be fed non-GM feed starting in 2017, which will require the conversion of 80,000 acres of farmland to non-GM crops.

“Shoppers are our main ingredient, and what is important to them drives what we do,” Dannon chief executive officer Mariano Lozano said in a news release.

“For this reason, the range of products we make is evolving to provide even more choices.”

Dannon’s decision has angered U.S. farm groups.

The American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Soybean Association, the American Sugarbeet Growers Association, the National Corn Growers Association, the National Milk Producers Federation and the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance issued a tersely worded letter to Lozano.

“We are writing to express our deep concern and great dismay with your company’s attack on the livelihood and integrity of our farmers,” the letter said.

The groups say Dannon is portraying its pledge as a commitment to environmental sustainability, but it is accomplishing the exact opposite.

They say reducing the amount of GM crops will increase pesticide, water and fossil fuel use and lead to further soil erosion.

“In our view, your pledge amounts to marketing flimflam, pure and simple,” said the letter.

“It appears to be an attempt to gain lost sales from your competitors by using fear-based marketing and trendy buzzwords, not through any actual improvement in your products.”

However, one Canadian agriculture industry executive sees tremendous opportunity in the actions of Dannon and other food industry giants.

Murad Al-Katib, president of AGT Food and Ingredients, the world’s leading processor of pulse crops, said the growing anti-GM food movement has been a boon for his industry.

“That’s the global trend and that’s the trend that we sell into because pulses are non-GM, so it’s a big opportunity,” he said.

Al-Katib doesn’t see any end in sight to the trend with more and more food companies taking the non-GM plunge.

“We believe it’s a massive opportunity for this industry.”

He envisions a canola-type story for the pulse sector, in which a major portion of the crop is milled in North America and used like corn in a variety of food products.

Al-Katib said the United States used to be a market that embraced or at least tolerated the GM supply chain, but a struggle between farmers and consumers is emerging.

The term “natural” used to be equated with organics, but today it is associated with non-GM.

There is a no more telling sign of the shift in consumer attitudes than when General Mills announced it would make non-GM Cheerios.

“That was the day the light bulb went off over the head of the U.S. food industry,” said Al-Katib, whose company is investing tens of millions of dollars on technology for making non-GM pulse flours and other ingredients.

“Cheerios is (an) apple pie, ice cream, U.S. legacy brand,” he said

Other major brands have since followed suit. Many believe the millennials are the driving force behind the demand for non-GM foods, but Al-Katib said there is another force at work, which is represented by his 15-year-old daughter, Sarah.

“She cares about her food label. She cares about the number of ingredients. She cares about natural, non-GMO,” he said.

“She’s not an environmentalist, but she’s certainly a socially conscious young lady.”

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