Milk producers' group goes after 'deceptive' non-GMO labeling
- The National Milk Producers Federation's "Peel Back the Label" campaign aims to combat "deceptive food labeling" from dairy brands like Dean Foods and Dannon — which have touted Non-GMO Project certification, according to a report in Food Navigator.
- NMPF President Jim Mulhern told Food Navigator that non-GMO sourcing methods are not more sustainable and that there are no safety benefits or nutritional differences from cows given conventional feed. He describes the companies as "playing upon food safety fears and misconceptions" in the report.
- "[M]y concern is that this kind of marketing threatens the use of technology that's allowed farmers to use crop inputs that are much safer than what they were using 20 years ago," Mulhern told Food Navigator. "You can reduce your fuel usage, make fewer trips to the field, do no-till farming, improve water quality and improve yield."
The Non-GMO Project claims that retailers carrying products featuring its seal of approval report "the fastest dollar growth trend in their stores this year," with annual sales exceeding $19.2 billion. So it's not surprising that food companies turning out dairy-based products want to get on that bandwagon. At the same time, some of these companies say they support conventional farming methods, including the use of GMO feed.
The ongoing debate over GMOs leaves consumers wondering whether to avoid conventional cow's milk and related dairy products altogether, or go ahead and buy them and hope they're safe. It's unclear how the beleaguered dairy industry can market conventionally sourced products to enhance consumer trust, or whether it's simply a losing battle centered on negative public perceptions about GMOs.
In the Food Navigator article, a Dean Foods spokesman called the new NMPF campaign "disappointing."
"We encourage consumers and NMPF to enjoy a glass of milk and focus on building up dairy foods, not dragging them down," Jamaison Schuler said.
DanoneWave CEO Mariano Lozano told Food Navigator that the company was surprised to be criticized for providing choices that consumers want. Soon after Non-GMO Project Verified products started appearing on shelves, Dannon officials told Food Dive about their reasons for going that route.
“The choice that we’re giving is added value,” Neuwirth told Food Dive. “We are the first yogurt company and large dairy company to undertake this. We believe that with the Non-GMO Project Verified value, for those shoppers for whom non-GMO is a priority, this will be another reason for them to love our products. And for those who are not interested in it, they won’t see a change in the product. So it really is an added value benefit to a product that our shoppers — our fans — already love.”
The debate over GMO safety is one that is going to continue — and is likely to get more fierce. With mandatory labeling of GMO ingredients coming in years ahead, more attention will be drawn to them. And even without overt labeling, 76% of consumers are concerned about them, according to a study from the NPD Group. The federal government is working to dispel myths on GMOs, with $3 million recently allocated for a public education campaign, but this small effort is unlikely to be enough to stop consumer concerns.