Dannon ‘Natural’ Yogurt Label Tricks Consumers, Suit Says

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By Julie A. Steinberg

Danone SA’s Dannon unit deceptively labels a dozen yogurt products “all natural” because they contain genetically modified ingredients, a Minnesota woman alleges in a suit on behalf of consumers nationwide ( Podpeskar v. Dannon Co. , S.D.N.Y., No. 16-08478, complaint filed 2/2/17 ).

The yogurt isn’t natural because it comes from milk produced by cows that eat feed containing GMOs, Polly Podpeskar says in a Feb. 2 complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Dannon spokesman Michael Neuwirth declined to comment Feb. 6 on pending litigation.

Podpeskar’s proposed class complaint reflects consumer concern and uncertainty about what’s “natural.”

Hundreds of food suits challenging “natural” labels have been filed.

French-based Danone SA is a global food processing company. Its Dannon unit is based in White Plains, N.Y.

The Food and Drug Administration received thousands of comments in response to a November 2015 call for public input about regulating use of the word, including whether GMOs may be called “natural.”

A reasonable consumer wouldn’t deem the yogurt products “all natural” knowing they contained ingredients derived from animals fed GMO crops, Podpeskar alleges.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has recognized that characteristics of an animal’s feed will affect the characteristics of the animal’s end products, the suit says.

In describing the production of milk from a cow grazing in a pasture, USDA stated that “the milk from that dairy cow is analogous to the crops harvested from the same field,” Podpeskar alleges.

Similarly, reasonable consumers believe that if a cow consumes GMO feed, then the cow’s milk—and products made from the milk--aren’t all natural, the suit alleges.

In April 2016, Dannon said it would take various steps, including working with suppliers to plant non-GMO feed, to give consumers a choice of more natural products, the complaint says.

But Podpeskar alleges this action supports the allegations in the complaint.

“Not only does Dannon tacitly admit it has been using milk from cows fed GMO crops but it also recognizes that products made from milk derived from animals who eat GMO feed do not meet consumers’ definition of natural,” the complaint says.

Reese LLP and Halunen Law represent the plaintiffs.

To contact the reporter on this story: Julie A. Steinberg in Washington at jsteinberg@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Patrick at spatrick@bna.com

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