By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
An anti-GMO group is pressuring Chobani Greek Yogurt to stop using milk from cows that eat feed containing genetically modified ingredients.
The group, GMO Inside, is calling on Chobani to stop marketing its products as "real" and "natural" until it switches to milk from cows that aren't fed GM feed.
About 48 percent of the GMO corn and 70 percent of the GMO soybeans grown in the U.S. go to livestock and poultry feed, said Elizabeth O'Connell, campaign director. In addition, cows are also fed alfalfa, cottonseed and sugar beets that might also be genetically modified, she said.
O'Connell said that there's a debate on the safety of GMOs, and while every report that comes out is contradicted, GMO Inside weighs in on the side of precaution.
She also claimed that studies have shown that GMO DNA passes through animals' digestive tracks and has been detected in milk, meat and fish.
However, there is no evidence of foreign DNA from any feed appearing in milk, said Mark McGuire, head of the University of Idaho Department of Animal and Veterinary Science.
Cow's milk does contain DNA from the cow, bacteria and viruses, but there is no intact DNA that would come from consumption of feed, so it is impossible to identify DNA from GMO or non-GMO feed in the milk, he said.
Nor is there any evidence of foreign DNA appearing in tissue, or meat, he said.
Chobani is a big brand and prides itself on caring about what its consumers want, O'Connell said. That makes it a good candidate to be a leader in the movement of processors requiring milk from non-GMO fed cows, and conversion of GMO farmland back to traditional or organic production, O'Connell said.
GMO Inside wants a commitment from Chobani to work only with dairies that don't feed their cows GMO crops, she said.
Chobani has built its business on creating delicious and nutritious food, with only natural ingredients, that is affordable for the masses, said Lindsay Kos, the company's communications manager. Balance between those four founding principles is important to Chobani, she said.
GMO is complex and weighs on the balance of Chobani's commitments, particularly affordability, as non-GMO ingredients are fewer and more costly, she said.
"We are in the infancy of exploring how we as a company, together with our suppliers, will navigate this important issue," she said.
The company has never made claims that its products are GMO-free, she added.
"As we approach the topic of GMO, we are taking care to explore all options while staying to true to our mission to make affordable and wholesome products for everyone," she said.
"Foods and feeds from genetically engineered (GE) plants that have been evaluated by FDA are as safe as those from conventionally-bred plants," the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in response to a Capital Press query on the issue of GMO animal feed. "Based on available data and information, FDA has no reason to conclude that food products derived from animals consuming feed from GE plants differ in quality or safety from those derived from non-GE plants."
Genetically modified crops are created when specific traits such as herbicide resistance are inserted in the genetic code of plants. It is also variously called genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, and genetically engineered, or GE.