There is nothing that makes me happier than seeing farmers and industry groups stand up against companies profiting from fear-based marketing schemes at the expense of modern agriculture.
I reported back in May that Dannon, one of the leading sellers of yogurt in the United States, had announced a “pledge” to consumers, promising to implement into its yogurt production sustainable agriculture, naturality, and transparency. Dannon’s plan included animal welfare issues, asking farmers to turn away from GMOs for sustainability reasons, and encouraging consumers to make healthy choices.
Unfortunately, the plan was really just a pretty marketing technique aimed at making consumers feel good about purchasing non-GMO and organic yogurt. In particular, the claims about genetically engineered crops being less sustainable was absolutely ridiculous.
Several presidents of major farm organizations called Dannon out on their pledge in a public letter. After addressing the misinformation Dannon parroted about biotechnology, the letter states:
In our view your pledge amounts to marketing flimflam, pure and simple. 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. Such disingenuous tactics and marketing puffery are certainly not becoming a company as well-known and respected as Dannon. Neither farmers nor consumers should be used as pawns in food marketing wars.
We strongly support open, honest and transparent engagement with consumers, and the right of consumers to make informed choices about the products they buy. But we are troubled by the disingenuous approach embodied in the Dannon pledge. We doubt that you would discard years of productivity improvements by returning to 1990s computer technology to run your business, or revert to 20-year old transportation, processing or packaging tools. Why then, when you repeatedly acknowledge the well-established science affirming the safety of agricultural biotechnology, would you require farmers to go back to old, inefficient and less effective cropping practices?
I called the company out on their plan via Twitter and never received a response. Apparently, they just didn’t think I was influential or important enough that I warranted any type of response, even though I was a (former) customer of their products.
Dannon did respond to the ag leaders’ letter, but evidently didn’t spend any great time contemplating what they were trying to say. Dannon’s response says, “[T]o help improve sustainable agricultural practices and protect biodiversity, we are working with our farmer partners to reach for better soil health, water quality and quantity, an increase in biodiversity, and decrease in carbon emission and energy use.”
The statement reaffirms the notion that the company thinks farmers suck at their job and wouldn’t be pursuing these goals on their own. As if we don’t care about soil health, water issues, and biodiversity. Absolutely absurd. The biggest problem is that, by abandoning biotechnology as a production option, the company is working against those goals. But, of course, Dannon knows better and does better.
Excuse me, but we don’t need a yogurt company telling us how to run our farms.
Even more telling was this particular line:
Regarding GMO crops, we believe the currently approved GMOs are safe. Furthermore, we believe that sustainable agricultural practices can be achieved with or without the use of GMOs. However, we believe there is growing consumer preference for non-GMO ingredients and food in the US and we want to use the strong relationships we have with our farmer partners to provide products that address this consumer demand.
In other words, we know genetically modified foods are safe and help farmers reach a more sustainable farming model. But we also see the non-GMO market is expanding, and we really want to tap into it, sustainability or science be damned.
Even if the company is unwilling to actually talk to or work with farmers, I’m glad that these industry groups stood up and said something. Apparently, it was loud enough that Dannon took notice and responded. Speaking out helps shape the narrative and calls into question Dannon’s ridiculous marketing plan veiled as a way to improve customer’s health.
It is always important for farmers to stand up and say something instead of letting the fear-based marketing run rampant and unchecked.