Business & Economy

Stonyfield drops out of trade group opposing GMO law

New Hampshire-based Stonyfield Farm is one of two organic dairy producers that have withdrawn from a trade group seeking to overturn Vermont’s GMO labeling law. The other is California’s Clover Stornetta Farms.

The companies say they are “under fire” from consumers who support the policy, according to a letter sent to the head of the International Dairy Foods Association.

Vermont’s GMO law would require labeling of certain food products containing genetically engineered ingredients starting in 2016. The IDFA is one of four trade groups that have filed suit against Vermont, arguing the law is unconstitutional. the lead plaintiff is the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

Stonyfield logo“Our decision to stop our membership wasn’t that hard, honestly,” said Britt Lundgren, director of organic and sustainable agriculture at Stonyfield Farm. “I don’t view this as a big loss for us. Stonyfield is a strong supporter of GMO labeling across the country.”

A split in the ranks

On July 8, an organic faction appeared within the IDFA when five members, all represented by another organic trade group, sent a letter to the association’s president to express their “deep concern and unhappiness” with IDFA’s decision to participate in the lawsuit.

“We are not clear why IDFA entered the lawsuit, as the labeling law does not affect dairy ingredients. As near as we can tell, this was an internal decision, with little or no consideration for the diverse interests of the membership,” the letter states.

The letter continues that the lawsuit gave the companies “serious pause” to consider whether IDFA could continue to be “a constructive association for those of us in the organic sector.” Two members later dropped their membership.

“I hope that IDFA takes this as message that they do need to do a better job of reaching out to all of their stakeholders,” Lundgren said.

But others, including Horizon Organic, Aurora Organic Dairy and Organic Valley, will retain their membership with the IDFA. They are also members of the Organic Trade Association, a vocal proponent of state GMO labeling initiatives.

“We still belong to the IDFA,” wrote Sara Loveday, a spokesperson for Horizon Organic, which is a subsidiary of the Denver, Colorado-based WhiteWave Foods Company, in an email to VTDigger. “But the organization has agreed that our dues have not and will not be used for anti-labeling efforts.”

Horizon decided to stay with the IDFA in order to have a seat at the table, Loveday said.

“We believe that the most effective option for fighting the IDFA’s anti-labeling actions is to use the power of our memberships to voice our opposition to their approach. As you referenced, we have made it clear to the IDFA that we do not approve of their decision to join GMA’s lawsuit against the state of Vermont, and we are in ongoing discussions with them about their position,” Loveday wrote.

Peggy Armstrong, a spokeswoman for the IDFA, said as far as she knows, no other members have withdrawn.

“We’re sad to lose any member,” Armstrong said. The company represents 200 dairy companies, many of which she said agree with the trade group’s position. “We have not been hearing from a lot of people saying they support Vermont.”

The ubiquity problem

Though dairy products are exempt under the law, many producers use sweeteners, such as corn syrup, which often comes from genetically engineered crops. Even a company like WhiteWave, which owns Horizon Organic, has products in its portfolio that contain GMOs, a spokesperson said.

Some companies oppose the state labeling law, but prefer a uniform national policy. The trade groups in the lawsuit argue a patchwork of labeling creates a costly logistical obstacle for food producers.

“We support national standards that are based on science and determined by federal agencies that hold the responsibility for food safety and labeling regulations,” wrote Sandy Yusen, a spokesperson for Keurig Green Mountain, Inc, in an email to VTDigger.

The Waterbury-based company, a GMA member, does not use genetically engineered ingredients in its coffee beans, but some of its beverage products may contain GMOs, according to Yusen. The company, like Starbucks, remains neutral on the controversial topic, but prefers a national solution.

Yusen said company membership dues are not allocated to the lawsuit in Vermont or to other anti-labeling campaigns. On the other hand, the company does not plan to donate to Vermont’s legal defense fund.

Laura Batcha, CEO and executive director for the Organic Trade Association, which represents some of IDFA’s members, said member companies have a right to voice their own perspective, as long as they do not publicly attack the trade association.

“Having a policy as a trade association doesn’t require a unanimity of thought,” Batcha said.

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John Herrick

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  • Michael Bald

    Well done, Stonyfield.
    A seat at the table is important, yes, but so is standing up for something.
    Thanks for putting your customers first, that’s where it all starts. We all know that national standards for GMOs and labeling are simply not going to happen, at least not from industry and federal agencies. Watch and see if anything comes about with regard to the exempted dairy products.

  • Cindy Koch

    Here’s a national solution: BAN GMOS NOW, screw labeling! Labeling isn’t going to stop them from destroying our organic farms from wind drift. We’re wasting such precious time w/this labeling crap!

  • Rod West

    Our family donated to the defense fund. We have a list of the GMA members and I will now print a list of the IDFA’s members. We will be taking our business elsewhere as much as possible.

  • RL White

    I am applauding this action taken by these companies… and YES! Banning GMOs & GMO seeds is where this needs to be fixed!

    Sandy Yusen, a spokesperson for Keurig Green Mountain, Inc., stated that she wishes to leave it to Federal Agency’s to manage… AND the problem with that is Michael Taylor, Monsanto Lawyer, controls what all the food safety issues that come across his desk… he SUPPORTS GMOs obviously and so does Hillary Clinton & Jeb Bush… so until we get MONEY OUT OF POLITICS, this idea that the Federal government is going to “fix it” IS the problem!

  • Kimberly Thomas

    Yes Stoneyfield for standing up for what’s right. I just found you last year, you’re the only brand I will eat. The only brand. I don’t know how this GMO us going to pan out, but there sure is a lot of food that is dropping off my list and when I get enough money my garden will get bigger! Thank you

  • Jeez Steve, bet you believe the 911 commission report

  • Jim Montgomery

    Steve Jones, I respectfully disagree with your position. There is NO scientific consensus that GMOs are safe for the environment or our health. Just like the tobacco companies manufactured consensus about the safety of cigarette smoking to protect their profits, the big ag/biotech/chemical corporations have manufactured consensus about the safety of GMOs. Let’s not forget that Monsanto told us DDT was safe and Dow told us Agent Orange was safe. Fool us once…. And for the record, climate change is real and it is largely caused by human activity. I understand the risks of GMOs just like I understand the risks of GMOs. (super storms and super weeds, both are devastating to our planet and its inhabitants).

  • Carol Edwards

    Thank you Stonyfield . Your organic yogurt was the only one I ate until I found out you were with an organization fighting GMO labeling. Thank you for standing up for what is right and thinking about the environment and the health of your customers, which quite clearly Monsanto is not

  • Joanna Lidback

    Thanks, Sreve for speaking out for science. If you don’t want GMOs, simply choose organic or non-GMO labels. Let’s use our taxpayer money for more important issues. And spend your defense fund on something else.