US dairy Clover Stornetta Farms seeks to lead on non-GMO feed use

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Clover Stornetta Farms is committing to produce its milk and dairy products without using biotech feed ingredients.

The California-based dairy announced at the end of September that it will be transitioning all of its milk and fluid dairy product production to non-genetically modified (GMO) animal feed.

The dairy hopes to be at the start of a trend to move away from the use of GMO feed in dairy production and to offer a less expensive option than organic, said Marcus Benedetti, Clover CEO. “We will be one of the first in California to offer Non-GMO Project Verified conventional milk on a large scale,” he added.

“Our hope is to lead the way by creating an industry-wide movement towards more non-GMO feed options for our dairy cows,” he told FeedNavigator. “We look forward to working closely with our dairy partners to make this goal a reality.”

Feed focus

The move toward using only non-GMO feed and to navigate the certification process is expected to take several years, said Benedetti. “This effort will transition our conventional dairies over the next two years to using all Non-GMO Project Verified feed,” he added.

Feed to support the effort is expected to be sourced both in California and across the US, he said. It is unclear at this point about how much non-GMO feed will be needed to cover the change.

The dairy is working with the Non-GMO Project Verified certification on the project because it offers a known, third-party review, he said. “As a company, we have been driven to pioneer and elevate dairy and offering a Non-GMO Project Verified conventional milk is an important next step on this path,” he added.

The move toward production using only feed without biotech ingredients is being made to meet market demand, he said. “The public is increasingly demanding food that has not been genetically engineered. Consumer demand for non-GMO products is predicted to be up 15% a year over the next five years,” he added.

“In fact, according to Consumer Reports, 72% of Americans say that it is important to avoid GMOs when they shop, and consumers have been looking for a non-GMO conventional milk alternative,” said Benedetti. “That’s why, over the last year, we focused on how we could effectively and sustainably offer a non-GMO conventional milk in response to consumer demand.” 

The Non-GMO Project is a US non-profit organization aimed at building and protecting a non-GMO food supply. It has consumer education and outreach programs; it gives marketing support for Non-GMO Project Verified brands and training resources and merchandising materials to US retailers, as well as third-party verification for non-GMO food and products.

In addition to the conventional dairies, Clover also has facilities that produce organic milk, the company said.

“Our organic business is still very important to us, and we will continue to support our organic dairies and products,” added Benedetti. “This move to convert our conventional milk products to be Non-GMO Project Verified is about providing choice to consumers based on what they need and want – which is a non-GMO conventional milk alternative at a lower price point than organic.”

Previously, the company has taken steps to look at milk as a specialty food, he said.   

“Clover established the North Coast Excellence Certified (NCEC) program; has always said no to the growth hormone rBST; was the first dairy to become American Humane Certified; and made an early entrance to provide and support organic dairy products,” he said.

Retail ready 

It is expected the first non-GMO products will hit shelves in early 2017, said Benedetti. Initial products will be half-gallons of milk, followed by other “fluid products,” and, it is anticipated that non-fluid dairy products would follow after that step is completed.

“Over the last year, we have focused on how we could effectively and sustainably offer non-GMO conventional milk,” he said. “We want to make sure we take all the necessary steps and work with our dairy farmers closely through this process. It will take some time to convert all of our conventional dairies to using non-GMO feed, and to work through the Non-GMO Project Verified certification process.”

Products will be sold where Clover products are already available, he said. “Our Non-GMO Project Verified conventional milk products will be sold in the same retail stores where our current conventional milk is sold – independent, grocery, mass, club and foodservice channels,” he added.

The company said it distributes through the western US, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada and Wyoming.

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