Danone may dump Horizon Organic – announcement follows Northeast contract terminations, big investments in fake-milk

By Sherry Bunting, previously published in Farmshine, February 3, 2023

PARIS, France — Danone put Horizon Organic on the proverbial chopping block last week, positioning itself to take another step away from real milk after spending the past several years building an operational runway to catapult the French-based global food and beverage giant even further into the world of fake-milk.

On January 26th, Danone announced it is exploring the “strategic option” of selling its U.S. organic dairy line — namely the Horizon Organic and Wallaby businesses. 

“Both are strong, much-loved brands with compelling growth opportunities,” said Danone CEO Antoine de Saint-Affrique in a brief press release. “That said, seen through the lens of our Renew Strategy, which requires us to stay disciplined in how we allocate our resources, they fall outside of our priority growth areas of focus.”

Previously, Danone executives noted Horizon and Wallaby represent 3% of global revenues and have a “dilution impact on operational margins.”

On the chopping block 

Wallaby is an Australian-style organic yogurt found mostly in natural food stores as well as the Whole Foods chain throughout the U.S.

Horizon Organic is ubiquitous and foundational. It became the first public organic food company in 1994 and was purchased by Dean Foods in 2004, where it became part of WhiteWave holdings alongside International Delight, Silk and other fake-milk brands. A 2012 spin-off separated WhiteWave from Dean, taking former Dean CEO Gregg Engles with it, until April of 2017, when Danone purchased WhiteWave, and Engles continued as a current Danone S.A. board member.

The announcement that Danone may dump Horizon comes just before Danone’s fiscal 2022 earnings call, just before the final extensions expire on previously announced contract terminations for 89 Northeast Horizon Organic dairy farms, and just after Danone closed the book in its final negotiations under pressure from organic and consumer groups by presenting its 2023 Northeast Region Investment Package.

Ed Maltby, executive director of Northeast Organic Dairy Alliance (NODPA), recounted the final communication. 

Pegged at $18 million, Danone’s package “is designed to drive meaningful impact in the region and the organic farming community in both the immediate and longer term,” Chris Adamo, Danone vice president of public affairs and regenerative agriculture policy, told the Northeast organic community in his December 2022 presentation.

Three Northeast projects were promised:

First, a partnership with dairy farming co-ops and processors to invest more than $14 million to “establish new relationships with more than 50 dairy producers in western New York.” 

“A year earlier, in December 2021, Danone maintained they were going to take on 50 new organic dairy farm suppliers to replace those farms they had dumped as part of improving their trucking logistics,” Maltby reflected. “Is this investment geared to making these farms more efficient to improve the supply of milk to Danone, or perhaps to improve their co-op’s infrastructure? How can producers access this money or is it just for processors?”

Second, a ‘market-premium price payment’ is included, whereby Danone commits to providing “direct financial support to farmers in the Northeast, along with additional pay price increases totaling approximately $3.6 million.” 

Maltby wonders: “Is this the transition payment that Danone already said it had paid to producers that they dumped? Or is it an increase in pay price for those farms they took on when they dumped their existing producers?” 

Third, Danone pledges $500,000 in new grants, administered by The Organic Center in 2023, to “support projects connected to the future of organic dairy and Northeast farming.” Recipients can be individual farms, groups representing farmers, non-profit organizations, academic institutions and universities, groups that provide agricultural technical assistance or groups that train and educate farmers on emerging agricultural topics.

“(Adamo) left many of us, and a few State Agriculture Commissioners, confused about exactly who would get what, when, and how. The phrase ‘smoke and mirrors’ accurately describes the way they have attempted to make consumers believe that something is being done to assist Northeast organic dairy farm families when it is not,” writes Maltby. 

“Danone’s lack of transparency at every step, and their green-washing, does not surprise anyone. Their actions have highlighted the problems faced by the Northeast organic dairy community that we continue to work on with support from consumers and other organic advocates,” he adds.

The potential offload of Horizon is not surprising, considering Danone’s pattern of ending contracts with smaller organic dairy farms, consolidating its conventional non-GMO pledge milk via larger farms, while at the same time making a big push into plant-based fakes. These pathways integrate operational control with green-washed growth.

Meanwhile, the promises made by Danone appear to skate all the way around the core impacts and could be up in the air if Horizon Organic comes under new ownership.

The entire organic dairy farming complex has long operated as a premium-priced real milk option alongside what are now ramped-up and continually reinvented plant-based fake-milks. Now they brace for what a Horizon sell-off could mean, and hope to see a real dairy renewal strategy of their own. 

Danone’s timeline has shaped up like this:

In July 2016, Danone launched the Dannon Pledge for non-GMO verified, positioning its conventional milk supply around a concept of ‘almost-organic.’

In April of 2017, Danone purchased the Dean WhiteWave spinoff, which included Horizon Organic and the Silk, So Delicious, and Alpro plant-based brands. The DOJ Antitrust Division required Danone to simultaneously divest its Stonyfield Farms subsidiary.

In 2018, Danone quietly notified smaller Horizon Organic dairy farms in the western states that their future contracts would not be renewed amid a glut of organic milk and differences in how USDA’s organic livestock origin rules were being applied. Some of these producers were offered conventional non-GMO milk contracts using Danone’s proprietary Cost Performance Model (CPM). Some found other markets, and many exited the business. According to Danone’s 2021 Regenerative Agriculture Report, more than half of all U.S. milk collected by Danone now comes from farms with CPM contracts. 

In February 2019Danone completed construction of the world’s largest plant-based yogurt factory in Dubois, Pennsylvania, where other non-dairy lookalike products are also made.

In February 2020, Danone told investors the rising global temperature is a business opportunity, and the company would accelerate food transformation with climate at the core of its growth strategy.

In October 2020, Danone announced its partnership with a bioscience startup to use artificial intelligence to explore new formulations to improve taste and texture of plant-based dairy alternatives.

In January 2021, Danone’s So Delicious brand launched its first plant-based cheese, and Danone S.A. was acknowledged as the largest plant-based company in the world. The company told investors it would grow revenue in plant-based with further acquisitions and a “plant-based acceleration unit.”

In April 2021, Danone and the EAT Lancet Commission announced a strategic partnership to promote a so-called “healthier and more sustainable food system by driving a change to planetary diets.” Danone pledged to use its ‘One Planet. One Health’ framework to “accelerate this food revolution.”

In July 2021, Danone announced three new plant-based fake-milk launches for 2022, along with a list of other lookalikes. During the July 2021 earnings call, Danone executives identified the U.S. as a “key plant-based market,” but noted 60% of U.S. consumers are not in the category because of product taste and texture. They announced a plan to win them over “with new dairy-like technology under Silk NextMilk, under So Delicious Wondermilk and under Alpro Not Milk.”

In August 2021, Danone sent letters notifying all 89 of its organic dairy farms in New England and eastern New York that their milk contracts would be terminated in 12 months’ time. Later, under pressure from organic groups, officials and consumers, Danone agreed to a Feb. 2023 extension.

In January 2022, Danone launched the three new fake-milks: NextMilk and Wondermilk hit U.S. dairy cases, and Not Milk hit shelves in Europe. 

(Interestingly, the Silk NextMilk Whole Fat has 6 grams of saturated fat from processed coconut and seed oils. That’s more saturated fat per serving than Real Whole Dairy Milk naturally from cows. Danone’s Silk NextMilk is packaged in red and white cartons with the words ‘Whole Fat’ appearing directly under the brand name to mimic the Whole Milk appearance. Interestingly, the FDA’s proposed healthy labeling rule sets a tougher threshold for saturated fat in dairy products compared to saturated fats from plant-sources.)

In March 2022, Danone described its Horizon Organic and “traditional dairy” holdings as “troubled offerings,” telling investors: “There are no sacred cows,” as they “keep pruning” the portfolio to “boost growth” and “distance” the company from “underperformance”… by investing more in “winning products” and selling existing brands or buying new ones.

In May 2022, Danone launched its “Dairy & Plants Blend” baby formula (60% plant-based, 40% dairy) “to expose children to food tastes early in life that can help shape their future food preferences… while shifting toward plant-rich diets and embracing alternative sources of protein to help reduce carbon emissions.”

In October 2022, Danone announced it would use artificial intelligence through its bioscience partner BrightSeed, to reformulate over 70% of its plant-based fake-milk alternatives to reduce added sugars and increase nutrient density. At the same time, it allocated $15 million to “partner with retailers on healthy eating education” and $7 million to partner with community-based programs that provide nutritious foods.

(Timing is everything: Danone is among the financial supporters of the infamous Tufts University Food Compass, launched recently into the federal nutrition policy arena through the Biden-Harris Hunger, Health and Nutrition Strategy and the FDA proposed rule on  “healthy labeling.” The Food Compass nutrition profiling algorithm rates nonfat dairy yogurt high as an encouraged food, along with plant-based fake-milks; but real milk and cheese are rated lower as foods to moderate or discourage. More artificial intelligence, to be sure.)

This brings us to January 2023, when Danone announced it is eyeing sale of Horizon Organic, saying it falls outside of their key areas of focus.

(Previously, Danone set its sights on being among the first multinational corporations to achieve global B-Corp certification by 2025, already certified in the U.S. Part of this certification involves accountability for social elements such as fair trade and treatment of suppliers. This posed a problem throughout 2022 as Danone was called upon to rethink the Northeast farm contract terminations or to provide financial assistance for the farms and the region.)

Heading into February 2023, the contract extensions end for the terminated Horizon Organic dairy farms in the Northeast. Some have gone out of business. Others have gone to Stonyfield or Organic Valley, which eventually agreed to take on the remaining Northeast farms facing Horizon termination, along with 40 organic dairies cut last year by Maple Hill in New York.


FDA admits almonds don’t lactate, but here’s the rest of the story…


They’re even taking her ‘moo!’ Investor-heavy high-tech startup companies are (with USDA’s help) taking her DNA to give food-grade yeast her protein-producing ability in a fermentation process to make “animal-free milk and dairy.” They’re editing her cells to grow muscle blobs in bioreactors for “animal-free boneless beef” and using her unborn bovine fetal serum as the culture media for the so-called ‘clean’ ‘animal-free’ cell-cultured meat growth. And they are taking her “moo” with website invitations to “join the ‘Moo’-vement or to get ‘moo-ving’ for all the dairy you love with none of the cows.” Meanwhile, FDA is poised — in a multi-year nutrition innovation strategy — to expand standards of identity for milk/dairy and meat/beef to accomplish nutrition innovation goals that, themselves, are being questioned and in the end may give these companies the license to steal. Photo by Sherry Bunting

FDA nutrition innovation strategy poised to ‘modernize’ how milk, beef defined as high-tech labs make cow-less versions of both

By Sherry Bunting for Farmshine, July 27, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As President Ronald Reagan famously said: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

Last week’s news that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will “help” the situation of imitation milk labels was followed by specifics from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

He revealed in a live interview with Politico: “An almond doesn’t lactate, I will confess.”

Now there’s the sound bite everyone wants to hear, and the media and social media worlds went wild. But what does it really mean? Here’s the rest of the story and how to get involved.

Gottlieb said publicly that FDA plans to start gathering public comments before taking next steps in “redefining the rules for milk products”.

What he didn’t say in the Politico Pro Summit on July 17 is that FDA has already published a hearing and comment notice in the June 27, 2018 Federal Register for a July 26 hearing that covers three topics related to “modernizing” standards of identity, and the comment period ending August 27, 2018.

Will the government’s offer to ‘help’, in this case, result in more dishonesty and skulduggery, tricking consumers into eating what they may not otherwise choose and allowing investor-heavy startup companies to steal from farmers and ranchers, not only the identity of the products they produce, but also the very commodity-promoting checkoff dollars the government mandates they pay?

FDA already has a standard of identity for milk, and almost 100 dairy products, that it has chosen to ignore for more than a decade on any product except actual dairy milk.

Here’s the rub… If real dairy milk does not have added Vitamin D (when fat is removed Vit D is added to bring it back to full-fat levels of Vit. D), it can be deemed “mislabeled” by FDA and unable to call itself MILK.

But, if there are almonds and soybeans in your milking parlor — by all means, have at it,  label it milk — with or without Vit. D — not to mention without real milk’s levels of protein, quality amino acid profile and 9 essential nutrients.

You see, the standard of identity for milk is enforced when it comes from a cow, but not when it comes from a plant. And yet, because there is a standard of identity for milk — a nutritional and functional expectation — the plant-based knock-offs get to hijack that profile without being held to it and can selectively market from it with ‘more xxx’ or ‘free of xxx’ statements without stipulating what they are deficient in. (Example: Almond milk labels should say “88% less protein” if they are going to differentiate from the standard of identity they are hijacking).

By its own admission, FDA has maintained a non-enforcement posture on plant-based imitation beverages. Described as “enforcement discretion,” FDA has looked the other way and the dairy foods industry was either asleep at the wheel or developing imitations on the side, while these imposters were flooding the dairy case.

Meanwhile the companies investing in the imitations were free to do their market development and consumer confusion while securing space in the dairy case.

The timing of Gottlieb’s comments last week is even worse, given FDA’s launch of a multi-year nutrition innovation review as part of the agency’s nutrition innovation strategy revealed in March that seeks to expand standards of identity for products like milk and meat.

FDA meetings are happening quickly and quietly in various areas of imitation animal protein labeling and regulation. Yes, they are public meetings, but no one really knows about them.

Milk and dairy products have already been on the receiving end of identity-theft for more than a decade, and now that griddle is heating up to pancake both dairy farmers and ranchers (cattle are the target) with new plant-based mixtures, but even more horrifying are the genetically-edited cellular protein blobs or white-substance-exuding yeast grown in bioreactors yearning to be beef and milk.

There are new identity-thieves lurking about and guess what? USDA — the government — is the source of the bovine gene-edited cells and bovine gene-sequenced yeast in the heavily-investor-funded tech food startup companies that are the real focus of FDA’s recent moves.

With patents in hand — and funding from their big investors to scale up manufacturing — they seeking regulatory and labeling authority under FDA to be meat/beef and milk/dairy — without the cows.

FDA had a hearing on cell-cultured proteins July 12, and comments on regulation and labeling for this are due September 25.

A hearing on standards of identity was held by FDA on July 26 (after Farmshine press time), and comments are due August 27. (Look for more on this in next week’s Farmshine).

Dairy and beef producers need to become actively engaged in these moves by FDA because the main organizations that represent them — National Milk Producers Federation and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association — are on record stating these cell-cultured products should be subject to regulation under USDA like real meat and dairy. They are mainly seeking a level playing field in the marketplace, not opposing their classification as meat, milk, dairy.

(NMPF is vigorously defending milk’s standard of identity against plant-based imitations on nutritional grounds, but seeking a level playing field on the cell-cultured proteins).

Trust me, food and dairy manufacturing companies and investors have already hired the best and the brightest and are already involved in this FDA process — cheering for the other team.

Here’s an example: Perfect Day ‘animal-free milk’ is on the market after receiving its patent in February and raising $24.7 million in first-round startup funding from investors to scale-up manufacturing.

This company has a business-to-business (B2B) model, according to an interview with Reuters, and is already working with some of the world’s largest dairy food and beverage manufacturers. Its website states that the product is just like milk in terms of proteins, but without the cholesterol, saturated fats, lactose, and environmental impact of cattle. Just think what this portends for the dumping of even more fat-free real milk from the market.

In fact, a primary foreign investor indicated support for the Perfect Day (fake milk) startup because it aligns with United Nations Sustainability Goals for 2030. (There’s that S-word again. I hope we are paying attention to how the S-word and cattle are getting along these days). Continental Grain is a big investor in both the Memphis Meats (fake meat) and Perfect Day (fake milk) startups, while Cargill and Tyson are investors in the Memphis Meats startup.

These high-tech food sciences are attracting big high-tech investors at a rapid rate because they are viewed as “disruptor technologies,” and their websites and promotional materials hold nothing back. Milk, meat, beef, dairy – no words are off limits in their branding and marketing.

In effect, while the government forces dairy and beef producers to pay a checkoff tax for promotion of their commodities, beef and dairy — and the names of products associated with those commodities — the government is looking the other way or now potentially encouraging more identity-theft as techies enter the food space to market proteins using the dairy and beef profiles and images, without paying one dime.

As for Perfect Day, this fake-milk is made by genetically altering food-grade yeast, taking DNA from a cow and sharing its protein-producing qualities with the yeast. (Sourced from the USDA, the genetically-altered yeast are cultivated to produce ‘dairy’ protein).

This process results in a microbe that is combined with a sugar substrate (food for the microbe) to feed, grow and exude in a fermentation process the company says is like “craft-beer-style-brewing,” producing protein “building blocks” for making dairy milk, yogurt and cheese. Perfect Day’s website says: “Dairy reinvented: Sustainable. Kind. Delicious.”

The end game is to provide a ‘base dairy’ protein that looks and tastes like milk, for inclusion in manufactured dairy products like cheese, ice cream, pizza, yogurt, and to work “synergistically” with the dairy foods industry as — according to the website — “a complement to cow-based milk that takes some of the stress away from the factory-farming system, rather than replace dairy cows entirely.”


Enter a caption

Memphis Meats and other companies on the fake meat side are doing similar things with cell-culturing to grow cellular protein blobs in laboratory bioreactors.

In each case, the ultimate goal is to decrease the need for cattle — be they dairy or beef bovines.

Think about this for a moment. Even at a 1 to 3% inclusion rate in common dairy foods or ground beef, these lab-cultured proteins and genetically-altered yeast give processors even more control over supply, demand and pricing of milk as well as boneless beef, and if standards of identity allow this, or if FDA enforcement discretion looks the other way – consumers will never know the integrity of their food has been changed.

If FDA modernizes its standards of identity to accomplish the goals as outlined by Commissioner Gottlieb — including a reduction in saturated fat consumption despite revelations that saturated fats are healthful not harmful — it is entirely possible that FDA’s new guidance could allow these protein “innovations” in standardized dairy and meat products, without being considered mislabeled and with no indication to consumers.

Gottlieb has already established FDA’s desire to accomplish certain nutritional goals by spurring innovation with more “flexible” standards of identity.

Ahead of the July 26 hearing, FDA published its intention to cover three aspects in the standards of identity discussion: 1) Protecting consumers against economic adulteration; 2) Maintaining the basic nature, essential characteristics, and nutritional integrity of food; and 3) Promoting industry innovation and providing flexibility to encourage manufacturers to produce more healthful foods.

FDA’s Federal Register notice also says the following: “Our intent is that modernizing standards of identity to improve the nutrition and healthfulness of standardized foods will promote honest and fair dealing in the interest of consumers and achieve the goals of the Nutrition Innovation Strategy.”

How can FDA pursue this course in the face of what has been revealed in the past three to four years? It appears that bringing these B2B products to market, along with the FDA nutritional innovation strategy, are happening ahead of the battleground brewing for the next round of Dietary Guidelines.

It appears they want to modernize standards of identity for dairy within less than one year, to get them in place before the current flawed dietary guidelines are challenged in the 2020 cycle, which begins in earnest in 2019.

Numerous investigations and scientific reports and studies show that the saturated fat avoidance of more than 30 years was not only never proven to be healthful, it is now shown to be harmful. And the rhetoric from the United Nations and various Sustainability projects continues to focus on cattle as being bad for the planet, despite evidence to the contrary.

FDA wants comments that specifically talk about how the agency can use standards of identity to encourage the production of more healthful foods, to take into consideration technology, nutrition science and marketing trends, and to assess what consumers expect these standards to tell them.

Is FDA about to help the food industry blur the lines of food integrity to trick people into eating according to USDA/HHS flawed set of dietary guidelines (and UN environmental sustainability assumptions)?

That would be the ultimate dishonesty, and much worse than the 10-plus years of ignoring dairy identity theft already happening daily in the supermarket dairy case. Expanding the standard of identity, depending upon how it is accomplished, would give large, powerful, multinational food corporations a true license to steal.

Last week, the American Dairy Coalition (ADC) launched a “Protecting Milk Integrity Initiative” to advocate for the proper use of federally standardized terms established for the word “milk” on product labels. ADC is a coalition of dairy, ag and livestock producers, and they are devoting a branch of their organization to work specifically on “providing clarity and consistency for consumers across the nation,” the organization said in a July 17 news release.

ADC is getting the word out that it believes the dairy industry must speak up to ensure the FDA understands how important it is, not only for the current standard of identity for milk and dairy products to be upheld, but for it to be fully enforced — restricting the use of the word “milk” on all future plant-based or alternative product labels.

They point out that the price of milk continues to decline while sales of plant-based alternatives are up 61% over the past five years with projections of more market share gains in the future.

Don’t be fooled by FDA’s admission that almonds don’t lactate. Instead of the enforcement of milk’s standard of identity that dairy farmers have been waiting for, FDA has already quietly launched its process for modernizing standards of identity to achieve specific (and flawed) nutritional goals.

To comment on Docket No. FDA-2018-N-2381 for “FDA’s Comprehensive, Multi-Year Nutrition Innovation Strategy,” due August 27, 2018, use the docket portal at https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=FDA-2018-N-2381.

To comment on Docket No. FDA-2018-N-2155 for “Foods Produced Using Animal Cell Culture Technology, due September 25, 2018, use the docket portal at https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=FDA-2018-N-2155 .

To mail comments for either one, reference the appropriate docket name and number in your letter and mail to: Dockets Management Staff (HFA-305), Food and Drug Administration, 5630 Fishers Lane, Rm. 1061, Rockville, MD 20852

In addition to commenting, a petition has been developed by the American Dairy Coalition’s Protecting Milk Integrity Initiative, and signatures are being collected to submit with public comments. ADC is also taking donations to raise funds to fight this cause.

More information about Protecting Milk Integrity Initiative, visit American Dairy Coalition

To learn more about the July 12 FDA cellular protein hearing (fake meat) and July 26 standards of identity hearing (fake milk), stay tuned to future editions of Farmshine for full reports ahead of the deadlines for commenting to FDA on both.




New Harvest and Memphis Meats testifed to FDA on July 12 that cell-cultured ‘meats’ are inevitable. They showed diagrams of how gene-edited bovine DNA and culture media are combined in bioreactors to make cellular blobs they want to call ‘boneless beef’ — without the cow. Similar diagrams can be found for Perfect Day and their phrase: ‘all the dairy you love with none of the cows’ at their website perfectdayfoods.com. Screenshot of materials displayed during FDA hearing by Sherry Bunting