Big changes are coming to some of your favorite yogurt products, specifically those produced by Dannon.
The company recently announced a “pledge” to consumers, promising to implement into its yogurt production sustainable agriculture, naturality, and transparency. (Side note: No, naturality is not a word and literally means nothing…) Complete with the hashtag #YogurtThatCares, Dannon has released an entire plan explaining the changes it will make in sourcing ingredients, including changing its relationship with diary farmers and dictating specific practices.
The focus of the campaign is sustainability and healthy eating. It also tackles some animal welfare issues, including demanding that all milk comes directly from the farm (not through a third party co-op) and that all farmers meet third party animal welfare standards. While those changes seem a bit more about appearances and not really about substantive changes, I’ll skip addressing those. Instead, I want to focus on 4 other areas of the pledge that just don’t make much sense.
Setting Goals for Farmers
For our entire product offering, we have started and will continue to work with our farmer partners to improve biodiversity, soil health and water usage and quality by encouraging such practices as rotating crops, managing fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide application, etc, in the production of feed for the cows providing our milk supply.
This list is probably the most puzzling to me, because while Dannon is acting like they’re forcing their farmers to make really radical changes on the farm these aren’t radical at all. In fact, we employ most of these on our farm.
We’re concerned about soil health and implement no-till or just-a-little-till practices. We rotate crops on an annual basis. We manage our fertilizer, pesticide, and herbicide applications (which for Dannon’s part is very vague), by finding ways to limit or reduce how much or often we spray. In other words, we care about the environment and have implemented practices that reduce our impact, including the use of genetically engineered crops.
But if the environment is really what Dannon is concerned about, the next part has me really confused….
We will progressively reduce the use of practices and technology that lead to soil degradation, some of which may have been linked to the extensive use of monocropping and an extensive reliance on the use of GMO crops at the expense of integrated agricultural management of the land.
Like Food Babe, Dannon has made a serious mistake here regarding GMOs and soil health. In addition to reduce the overall amount of pesticides used, GMOs have also allowed farmers to implement no-till production methods. While there are many benefits to this practice, it is most notable here that no-till practices virtually eliminate soil erosion by allowing organic matter to stay in the field and protect the soil. It also promotes biodiversity by allowing microorganisms to flourish.
Also, I’m not sure if Dannon really understands the idea of monocropping, or that it isn’t as bad as the company thinks it is. Steve Savage has done an excellent job of explaining what “monoculture” means and that GMO crops are not promoting such a concept. He also points out that farms with GMO crops generally have “limited rotation” where at least two crops are switched out each year. Furthermore, let’s be real here: if we’re going to be productive and efficient and produce enough food to meet demand, big fields with one crop are the only way to do it. That’s what Dannon seems to really be complaining about – having a field with just one crop in it. But the alternative of having smaller acres with various plants all over the place just isn’t an option. It would require planting, weeding, and harvesting by hand, and such a demand for labor is just not even a remote possibility.
We need this system to produce enough food. At the same time, GMO crops allow us to reduce our environmental impact.
Pretty Marketing Terms
This change will enable consumers to make everyday choices for themselves, their family and children consistent with their wish for pleasurable, natural and sustainable eating options, choosing which agricultural and environmental model they favor through their everyday choice of consumption and usage. . . . For these products we will produce using ingredients, such as sugar and starch, that are more natural, not synthetic and non-GMO starting in July 2016.
This passage really makes little sense to me. Consumers are looking for food that is pleasurable, natural, and sustainable? All of those things certainly sound good, but they’re also completely meaningless. First, I enjoy food just as most people do, but I don’t know that I choose my yogurt based on which one is going to bring me the most pleasure. Second, natural is just a marketing buzzword that really doesn’t mean much, except maybe that the product is supposed to be minimally processed. But where exactly does yogurt come naturally from the Earth? Without processing, we wouldn’t have yogurt. Finally, sustainable. As a discussed previously in this article, Dannon doesn’t even know what that word means, but it also means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.
Of course, certainly for good measure, Dannon has to throw in the “non-GMO” terminology to make this section complete. I really wish they had talked to someone that knows something about food. If they did, they would have learned that sugar is sugar and you cannot tell the difference between sugar processed from GMO or non-GMO crops.
An “I Told You So”
Because most cow feed in the US is genetically modified today, we are also working with feed suppliers and our farmer partners to start planting non-GMO feed as soon as possible to fulfill our needs. Once these changes are implemented, these products from the three brand families will contain milk from cows provided non-GMO feed.
I included this one because, well, to be totally honest, I like to remind people that I was right. See, back in January of 2015, I wrote about the National Organic Plan and its agenda. One of the goals of the people behind the plan, who have no love lost for conventional production methods, is to increase the sourcing of organic dairy products. This was a really big deal in the Plan and we’ve seen it play out by other activists, including the likes of Food Babe and her campaign against so-called Monsanto Milk.
As I explained in my original article, the goal here is really quite simple. Increasing the demand for organic dairy products increases the demand for organic feed. The vast majority of feed in the United States is derived from GMO corn and soybean crops. As the demand for organic feed goes up, we’ve had to turn to other countries – including China – to have enough supply. The hope by activists is that if they can drive up demand for organic feed so that farmers have incentives to grow it, then they can decrease the amount of acres being planted into GMO corn and soybeans.
And Dannon is now playing right into that scheme. By demanding that one of their main ingredients, milk, is sourced from cows fed only non-GMO feed, they are driving up demand for organic feed. This actively works to cut into the demand for GMO corn and soybeans.
As I said, it’s all part of the plan…
The Confusion is Great
I do applaud Dannon for at least attempting to reach out to consumers and be receptive to their demands. But this pledge really just feels like a slap in the face to both consumers and farmers. As to farmers, Dannon has essentially stated that the vast majority of us do a horrible job at protecting and taking care of the environment and producing safe food. Unless they are checking in on us and telling us how to do it, then we’re probably hellbent on destroying the Earth. For consumers, the company has produced a document that just has a bunch of buzzwords, no details, and a lot of wrong information. I know that there are a lot of really confused people out there, but a company should never sell their product with bad information.
I tweeted the company (which I find tends to get a response) about their pledge, specifically asking why they’ve decided to cut genetically modified crops if they’re so concerned about the environment. I have yet to get a response.
@Dannon If you’re committed to environment, why cut GMOs – they reduce pesticide use, carbon emissions, & increase efficiency?
— Farmers Daughter (@farmdaughterusa) May 4, 2016