Thursday, March 30, 2006

Dannon Skirts the Issue Again

In my last inquiry to Dannon (if you've been following the Activa saga), I asked for a definitive reply as to whether the "Bifidus Regularis" bacteria is genetically engineered or not. I'm not rabid anti-GMO, but I do like to know what's in my food. In that letter, I said that if they could not give me a clear "no," that I must necessarily take that as a "yes."

Here is their latest response:

Thank you for contacting The Dannon Company regarding our position on the use of ingredients that have been enhanced through agricultural biotechnology.

Dannon has a 58-year heritage of providing wholesome, safe and good tasting products to its consumers.

All Dannon products are manufactured under strict quality controls and
conditions that meet or exceed all applicable industry and government standards. We take great care to monitor all scientific information related to food safety, including that concerning the assessment of ingredients improved through agricultural biotechnology. To date, no information has emerged suggesting that these ingredients pose consumer health risk.

Moreover, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the United States
Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandate the safety of food. Each of these government entities as well as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization stand firmly behind the safety of these products.

For more information, we invite you to visit the following websites: The
Alliance for Better Foods website at www.betterfoods.org, The International Food Information Council at www.ificinfo.health.org or The Council for Biotechnology Information at www.whybiotech.com. You may also contact The Council for Biotechnology Information toll-free at 1-800-980-8660 to obtain an informative booklet. Once again, thank you for your interest.
Sounds like a "yes" to me. "Agricultural biotechnology" can mean any number of technologies, one of which is genetic enginering.

Mind you, I wasn't questioning the safety of the product, only the origin of their magical bacteria. It's the Dannon people who keep harping on safety, while coyly skirting around the real question. And that closing paragraph smacks of, "Go away, kid, you're bothering us."

This again highlights the importance of both clarity and honesty in one's writing. The letter seems to have been written by someone well versed in the art of obfuscation. I ask a clear yes-or-no question, they respond with an essay on food safety. This arouses suspicion. I ask the same question, and they respond with another essay on food safety. Suspicions confirmed? Sounds like.

What bothers me most about this is not the bacteria itself, but the fact that the Dannon representatives will not give me a clear answer. Withholding valuable information about their products limits the consumers' ability to make educated choices. If they're afraid that people won't buy their yogurt because it contains a GM bacteria perhaps -- hey, here's a thought! -- they could use a non-GM bacteria and promote their food as GMO-free.

Oh, Dannon, Dannon, why won't you be honest with me?

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

There's loads of information about Bifidus Regularis (although not about the GMO / non-GMO issue) at www.bifidusdigestivum.com. They might know something about it...

Emily DeVoto said...

Great work! I figured, based on some of the research described in the Activa promotional materials (maybe something for docs?) that B. regularis was the same as B. animalis - I think that's the one that was shown to increase gut transit time. They may have just renamed it to make it sound better, more pharmaceutical perhaps.

But you're right, it could be an all-new, GM strain of the bacteria.

Writerious said...

I'm still not certain, but their lack of honesty is highly suggestive. I'll keep researching this one.

Anonymous said...

After 2 weeks activia gave me horrible stomach cramps, diarhea and now a raging yeast infection. Im highly irritable at this point and sent them a scathing letter. I wonder if they will respond.....

Scampi said...

The first time I heard about activia regularis in Dannon's new yoghurt, I was immediately suspicious. Funny how they've suddenly discovered that if they put this amazing bacteria into their yoghurt, it will help with digestive problems and lo and behold! it has exactly the right name as well - one that anybody with even a smattering of Latin, can work out. Sounds like a con to me, like just about everything else that's shoved down the unsuspencting consumer's throat these days! Funny how when an ailment becomes fashionable (ie promoted to death in the media), sombody will suddenly "discover" something new that will fix it. Makes one wonder if there isn't some money changing hands between the people who can promote the ailment and the people who "discover" the cure.

Dick Margulis said...

In 1969 or 1970 some friends of mine were sitting around enjoying some Pabst Blue Ribbon beer when one of them decided to read the label, only to find "approved food additives" listed among the ingredients.

There followed a lengthy and ultimately hilarious exchange of letters (email didn't exist yet) with a flack in the Pabst marketing department who eventually got into the game.

The crux of the conversation was:

Q. What do you mean by "approved food additives, exactly?"

A. We mean additives approved for use in food.

Q. Yes, but which additives?

A. Those that are approved.

You get the idea.

Hey, have fun with the Dannon folks. You might find someone there with a bit of wit ;-)

Anonymous said...

i'm with you. no question that there has been some GM going on. my suspicion is that it has been genetically modified to perform as or contain actual laxative. How else could you regulate someone's digestion on our all American diet in two weeks. Nice that the FDA decided to let them simply list the new 'creation' as the ingredient instead of making Danon list how they made this magical bacteria. Talk about useles government agencies - the FDA tops them all.

Anonymous said...

HEY!!! HERE'S HOW YOU FIND OUT!!!

Realistically, if the two bacteria that Dannon has are genetically engineered, they're probably patented... just inform them that you plan to culture and market the bacteria in a condensed (pill) form or with yogurt, wait for the response from their legal team.

The thought that I consumed a possibly genetically modified bacteria bothers me. Bacteria such as those in yogurt have existed for 'n' years, evolving along with creatures, and when those bacteria were less beneficial the creatures chances of survival decreased. The net benifit of a bacterium in this context can't be seen in the short term... but in the term of millions of years.

Finally, while genetically modified corn is one thing... GENETICALLY MODIFIED BACTERIA THAT LIVES AND BREEDS IS SOMETHING ELSE ENTIRELY!!! Crap...

There may also be patent disclosure requirements... look into it.

Keep in mind the bacteria could have also been specifically bred.

To those having problems... if they don't go away you could try moving to another country and eating local yogurt, my teacher who moved here had to eat dannon to easily digest american food... because the bacteria in his stomach was german and couldn't handle an american diet. OR

The rationale behind them is that antibiotics, stress, illness and a variety of other causes reduce the number of intestinal flora in the digestive tract (Danone claims that weather changes may be among them - click "How Does Actimel Work?")

You heard me... get stressed, get sick... and get an infection so you can take antibiotics!!!! Kidding on that last one... let's hope the cramps stop.... good luck anonymous.