[Editor’s note: This letter to the editor by Mike McCloskey is in response to the January The Editor’s Page. McCloskey is the CEO of Select Milk Producers, a co-owner of fairlife llc, this magazine’s 2016 Dairy Processor of the Year.]
I have to respectfully disagree with your interpretation of the GMO position that the National Milk Producers Federation, Select Milk Producers and others have taken. I believe that you have gravely misrepresented our position, one which I believe is quite simple and straight forward: tell consumers the whole truth about feed produced with biotechnology, and then let them decide.
Once consumers have all the facts, we, as farmers, will produce anything they desire. But first, it is incumbent that brands, retailers, processors and producers work together to help the consumer make sure that he/she is getting what they really think they are asking for. This means being honest in the way that dairy companies market their products, like yogurt, to consumers. I have to respectfully disagree with your interpretation of the GMO position that the National Milk Producers Federation, Select Milk Producers and others have taken. I believe that you have gravely misrepresented our position, one which I believe is quite simple and straight forward: tell consumers the whole truth about feed produced with biotechnology, and then let them decide.
The sustainability of GMO crops
I appreciate when you and Dannon state that GMO crops are safe for consumers. But when you suggest, as Dannon did, that non-GMOs are more environmentally sustainable than GMO crops, then you are misinforming the consumer for the purposes of discrediting GMOs true value, and irresponsibly trying to gain market share. Under no conceivable scenario could non-GMO crops be as sustainable as those produced through ag biotechnology.
You have to acknowledge that there is no innovation or added value in using fear-based absence claims to market products. The consumer deserves to know that non-GMOs will raise the price they pay for food by more than 15% while causing serious environmental damage. Hundreds of studies have proven that there is absolutely no food safety concern from consuming foods produced with biotechnology.
Now, after making the above clear, if the consumer still says, “Yes, I still want GMO-free products and am willing to pay the additional cost,” then we farmers will be glad to produce it for them. Let it be clear that many of us farmers would still view it is an elitist, anti-science position to take, but as farmers we know we must adapt to societal evolution and preferences, even if these preferences are misguided.
One thing to understand about farmers is we are very environmentally conscious and we care deeply about the safety of the product we produce. We get up every morning asking ourselves how we can grow crops and produce milk more efficiently, more safely for the consumer while improving our farms for our children to take over.
Irresponsible marketing of dairy foods
We hate to be in the same boat with irresponsible marketers whose focus is gaining temporary market share while taking away efficient, safe and environmentally sustainable farming tools. This marketing approach brings no innovation or added value, which is what truly grows a category like yogurt. Fear-based marketing is irresponsible and a race to the bottom. Such tactics amount to a cheap shot at their competitors while bringing no real value to the consumer.
Unfortunately, dairy is no stranger to these disingenuous marketing ploys. We’ve experienced it all before with rBST. Elimination of this tool from farmer toolboxes was driven by brands to get someone else’s market share without any effort of innovation or added value to the consumer.
Initially, a small premium was paid to the farmer, but once rBST-free went mainstream those premiums were reduced over time and today it is nonexistent. As a result, we farmers lost a great tool; rBST, when used correctly, was positive for cows, the environment and allowed for a lower cost to the consumer. Everyone lost because opportunistic marketers took advantage of consumer confusion.
Growth for our industry should come through innovation, not fear-mongering. Greek yogurt is the perfect example for growing a category. It brought new consumer value through innovation in a better-for-you product. It grew the entire yogurt category. Perhaps had Dannon not missed the boat on Greek yogurt 10 years ago they wouldn’t be in the position they are of scrambling to regain market share.
It’s apparent that today’s consumer is asking for transparency from farm to fork. They are wanting honest, authentic engagement and are tired of greenwashing and irresponsible marketing that plays on their fears and lack of understanding.
It is up to all of us, as an industry, to deeply understand this and help the consumer honestly see all the facts and then allow them to make their own informed choices.