Clover Stornetta Farms to make all its conventional milk products non GMO
Petaluma-based Clover Stornetta Farms next year will start to make all its dairy products free of genetically modified organisms.
In the first quarter of 2017, the Bay Area’s largest dairy processor will sell a new product, “Non-GMO Project Verified” conventional milk, President/CEO Marcus Benedetti said Tuesday.
Clover will start its transition with all conventional milk sold in half-gallon cartons, including the various weights from nonfat to whole milk. Over the next two years the company will switch all its other liquid milk products, like half-and-half and buttermilk, to non-GMO production, with a goal of eventually adding ice cream and other food products. GMOs appear in dairy products through livestock feed.
Clover’s plan is unusual and possibly unique among the nation’s larger dairy processors.
Benedetti said Clover would be the first dairy processor in the state to sell conventional GMO-free milk and “the first of any scale anywhere” to do so.
The Non-GMO Project, the Bellingham, Wash., nonprofit that will verify Clover’s products, said it doesn’t comment on who is first to make various GMO-free products.
The company will continue to produce its lines of organic milk products as well, which under federal rules are and must be GMO free. But the new initiative will allow consumers a non-GMO option that is cheaper than typical organic products.
While acknowledging sharp differences of opinion both locally and nationally over GMOs, Benedetti said their inclusion in milk products has raised uncertainty and anxiety on the part of consumers. Removing the GMOs removes the uncertainty.
“Right now we’re hearing loud and clear they want a choice,” Benedetti said of shoppers. “They want an alternative.”
The federal government, many scientists and food producers say foods produced with genetically modified ingredients are safe. In May, the National Academy of Sciences released a nearly 400-page study that concluded there currently exists no “persuasive evidence” of human health risks or adverse environmental effects directly related to genetically engineered foods.
In a season when Sonoma County voters soon will decide whether to ban GMO crops in all unincorporated areas, Clover’s announcement was met with surprise and mixed reactions in the local grocery and dairy industries.
“I think it’s great they’re transparent with everything they do,” said Steve Maass, the owner and founder of Cotati-based Oliver’s Markets. As for GMO-free conventional milk, he said, “I think our customers are very interested in it.”
Meanwhile, Stephanie Larson, director of the UC Cooperative Extension in Sonoma County, found the switch “disconcerting,” and “not based on science.”
Shoppers already can obtain GMO-free foods by buying organic, she said. But non-GMO conventional milk will have to cost more than regular milk and for many that will “limit folks’ ability to buy local products.”
The 39-year-old Clover is known among shoppers for its iconic, homespun Clo the Cow, easily the county’s most recognized business mascot. But among the region’s dairy industry it is known as a sizable player. Among non-store-owned dairy brands, Clover accounts for 57 percent of all milk sold in the greater Bay Area and Sacramento Valley, the company said, based on Nielsen data.
The company took an early stand two decades ago to ensure that all the cows at its partner dairies remain free of the controversial growth hormone BST. It also was the first dairy in the nation certified for the care of animals by the American Humane Association and later became a major producer of organic milk.