Dannon Seeks to Influence Farm Practices When Buying Milk From Producers

Stephanie Strom reported in yesterday’s New York Times that, “The yogurt giant Dannon, looking to tap into the public’s growing concern about the source of its food, is establishing a direct pipeline to some farms that supply the company with milk, part of an ambitious plan to influence farm practices right down to the dirt.

“Under a new supply system that the company will announce on Wednesday, farmers in the program must adhere to Dannon-dictated animal welfare standards and work to improve and conserve soil on their farms, among other things.”

Ms. Strom noted that, “The company’s program plays into an array of consumer trends, from the desire for better treatment of farm animals to a preference for the wares of small, new food companies that promote the simplicity and purity of their products. Those upstarts represent stiff competition for Dannon, whose yogurts represent more than a third of those sold in America.

Many big food companies are responding to the pressure like Dannon, by chipping away at an industrial food system built for efficiency, speed and low cost. Over the last year, companies including Nestlé and General Mills have pledged to use eggs only from hens living in cage-free, or aviary, housing systems, and Unilever has promised to increase ‘sustainability‘ in its business by doing some of the same things Dannon is trying to do with its new program.

But few have made plans as far-reaching to an ingredient as central to its business as milk is to Dannon.”

Yesterday’s article added that, “Sourcing milk directly is a sharp departure from the way big dairy companies usually get their milk. Typically, dairy farms load their milk into refrigerated trucks, which take it to a plant where it is combined with milk from other farms and processed.

“That process, used by Dannon’s former milk supplier, Dairy Farmers of America, a large cooperative, can make it difficult to figure out where the milk originated. Such information is increasingly important to improving food safety and addressing consumer demands for transparency.

Now, all the milk in Dannon’s yogurt will come directly from farms and two co-ops, whose members have agreed to the plan. The suppliers have said they will follow the animal welfare standards set by Validus a third-party certification company; these include providing cattle shades to reduce heat stress, and prohibiting tail-docking. The farms and co-op members have also agreed to take steps to change their farm management to deliver the environmental benefits Dannon seeks.”

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