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Is All Natural Yogurt All Natural?

September 24, 2009

First I was the salmon police.  Now, I’m the yogurt police?  Maybe I really do need to get a job.  Even I am finding this to be a bit obnoxious.

But last week, I wrote about how shocked I was to read the ingredients in mass-produced conventional yogurt.  And you all loved it.  Seriously, I never expected to receive so many comments about a yogurt post.

Incidentally, everyone’s favorite yogurt of the moment Fage actually does not rhyme with rage, but rather Yahweh.  [Mrs. Fussy suggests that perhaps it’s a slant rhyme since the yogurt is fah-yeh not fah-weh] But given the cultlike following of the yogurt, it’s only appropriate that it rhymes with name of the guy who was widely accused of being a cult leader.

So, all of your energy about yogurt got me to do something I had been meaning to do for some time.  I wanted to find out if Dannon All Natural yogurt is really all natural.

Well why wouldn’t it be?

The telltale sign was that despite its All Natural claim, there was not any disclaimer about rBGH or rBST.  And I thought that was suspicious.  So long ago I had intended to call the 800 number on the package to ask.  But that task somehow got placed on the never ending to do list of items that never ever get done.

Well, you all inspired me to write an email to the company, and solve the mystery of whether Dannon All Natural yogurt contains artificial growth hormones.

Here is what I wrote:
Your All Natural yogurt makes the claim, “No artificial anything.” However it is unclear from the labeling of the yogurt if the milk used contains artificial growth hormones.

Could you please confirm that your claim of “no artificial anything” includes rBST and rBGH.

I look forward to your timely response.

Many thanks,
Daniel B.

Personally I thought that was very polite and courteous.  And I was on pins and needles, counting the days until I got my response.  Which was a good bit longer.

Here is what Dannon had to say:
Thank you for your recent inquiry regarding Dannon’s use milk from cows treated with hormones.

The Dannon Company has been working towards its goal of using only milk (and all dairy ingredients) from cows not treated with rBST (recombinant bovine somatotropin), a synthetic hormone that has been approved and declared safe for use by the FDA.  We are well on our way to accomplishing this goal. In fact, today nearly 80% percent of the milk currently used in the Company’s products already comes from cows that are not treated with rBST.

Dannon intends that during the third quarter of 2009 its two largest plants will no longer use milk (or any dairy ingredients) from cows treated with rBST.  The Company’s third plant will follow shortly thereafter.

Although no safety issue is involved, Dannon has been taking steps to use only milk from cows not treated with rBST in response to growing consumer preference for so-called ‘rBST-free’ dairy products.  Dannon always listens carefully to the preferences expressed by consumers, and the evolution of the dairy market continues to move toward milk from cows not treated with rBST.

Based on consumer preference, Dannon is also encouraging its suppliers to switch to milk sources that are ‘rBST-free,’ to support the move by the entirety of the dairy market and not just yogurt.

Dannon’s products will continue to meet FDA requirements for safety as well as continue to be great-tasting and a nutritious part of a healthy diet.

Once again, thank you for contacting Dannon on this important matter.  Please be assured that we have shared your concerns with the appropriate individuals at Dannon.  I know they will be interested in your comments, as we sincerely appreciate when consumers take the time to communicate their concerns to us.

Lisa Moore
Consumer Service Representative

This answer has left me filled with all kinds of emotions.  It’s a little smarmy how they do not say rBST is “artificial” but rather they call it “synthetic.”  But it is great to hear that they are moving in the right direction.  All the same, the fact that some seventy-ish percent of the company’s milk comes from untreated cows is of little comfort.

So, what do you think?  Do we have any lawyers out there?

11 Comments leave one →
  1. September 24, 2009 8:58 am

    i’ve become something of a label fantatic. it’s hard to find products w/ simple ingredients in them. ESPECIALLY yogurt

  2. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    September 24, 2009 10:00 am

    There is no reason to eat corporatist Dannon with so many other choices available.

    • brownie permalink
      September 24, 2009 4:52 pm

      Sheesh. Really? Dumping on Dannon for “corporatism?” I assume your definition of the word is different than mine. In your context I envision a dark, spiraling tower filled with the nastiest of red-state villians, scheming to deliver lower quality at higher price with some toxic waste thrown in for fun. Close?

      Perhaps I go too far. But I personally see no reason why large, public, profit-motivated companies can’t create a quality product that rivals the smaller counterparts, perhaps even at a price advantage. Maybe I lack the finely-honed sense of taste some commenters here may have, but I apply a similar faith in capitalism to products I know far more about than the average bear. Some of my preferred choices are more “synthetic” than others, sometimes because they are.

      I’m with Daniel B. on the avoidance of the term “artificial” in Dannon’s response, even though “synthetic” is accurate. Their marketing team needs to exercise restraint. But I can’t help wonder how well the local, small producers would stand to this kind of scrutiny?

  3. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    September 24, 2009 7:36 pm

    Danone is “the world’s leading producer of fresh dairy products.” That’s huge: 3.8 million metric tons. I would just rather buy a smaller brand.

    • brownie permalink
      September 25, 2009 11:52 am

      Your preference is noted, but still based on a potentially false assumption that corporation size is inverse to quality product. If your primary definition of a quality product is limited volume, I’d suggest that might color your judgment of other attributes such as ingredients and taste.

      Perhaps people consume 3.8MM metric tons of Danone’s product because some of it is genuinely good. I’ve been accused of tilting at the counterpoint of every argument, but it seems prudent to keep an open mind.

  4. Ellen Whitby permalink
    September 24, 2009 9:29 pm

    Daniel, You’re so fussy. You just don’t know what “natural” means.

    According to the FDA “natural” is when “nothing artificial or synthetic has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in the food.”


    Actually, there is no official FDA definition for the term. In 1993, there was “limited funding and defining the word was not a priority.” Over the years, manufacturers have petitioned the FDA for an accurate definition. According to them, however, “there is not enough evidence that the current situation means consumers are being misled,” and although the FDA does have plans to review the petitions, defining the word is still not on their priority list.

    In the meantime, there are lawsuits pending regarding the use of the term “natural” for foods that contain high-fructose corn syrup.

    So there you have it, Profussor. You just don’t know what “natural” means.

    • brownie permalink
      September 25, 2009 11:59 am

      I guess the lesson we can take from marketing hyperbole and Quixotic litigation of the same is that one should look on the nutrition facts label first.

      I don’t mind HFCS so much as long as it’s not in my beverages, where it always leaves me thirsty after having a drink. That’s just wrong.

  5. September 25, 2009 7:25 am

    Mr. Fussy, Sir. This is sort of off topic, but did you sick the hounds of the Times Union blogs upon the venerable Mr. Dave? I got an email from them the other day about joining the Guilderland blog. Have you seen the pedantic house marms that post on that online rag? Don’t you know that I’m an artist!?! (everything prior to this parenthetical statement is ironic in nature and written purely in jest). In any event, thanks for thinking of me, but I prefer to be a rogue, independent voice of the people or something. I already think too many people read my blog and I am very suspicious of outsiders.

  6. Sam Martin permalink
    September 27, 2009 3:03 pm

    Given the known “bads” in our food supply – microbial contamination and not enough inspections and records – suing the FDA over the definition of natural might not be the most helpful strategy. The same holds true about the idea of suing the corporations that process our food, the ones who provide us with an abundance of (mostly) safe, clean food. The overall goal might be better accomplished by working with the companies and agencies involved towards the use of fewer synthetic chemicals in the food production process. While keeping in mind that the efficient production of food, that results from the use of synthetic chemicals, allows us to feed more people from less land, and often with less pollution, than traditional and distributed (smaller companies and farms) methods can. Given that there must be some form of balance, to attain the public goods of safe and abundant food as well as open lands, a cooperative rather than litigious interaction might be more fruitful.

  7. Mark permalink
    November 19, 2011 5:00 pm

    I recently purchased a quart of Dannon all natural non-fat plain yogurt, after having also purchased a quart of their Oikos greek plain non-fat yogurt. I couldn’t help but notice the poor texture (grainy and runny) of the all natural. Then I read the ingredients list and nutrition information and I think I understand why. I discovered that while non-fat milk is the ONLY ingredient in the Oikos (but not all natural??) the “all-natural” has two-the milk and pectin. Then reading the nutrition label, I see the “all-natural” has about half of most nutritional components! 11 grams of protein vs. 22, 9 grams of carbs vs. 15, etc. Since pectin contains no protein, I have to assume the “all-natural” is almost 50% pectin (probably 49% so the milk can be listed as the first ingredient). I’m concerned about eating all those pectin “empty calories” and the amount of pectin I will be adding to my diet with this product. Why the adulteration? I say “adulteration” because pectic is cheap (read “filler”) and is normally used as a thickener, not a primary ingredient.

    • December 1, 2011 1:00 am

      Interesting points. But I wonder if the fact that the Oikos is strained, thus making it more nutritionally dense than the regular “all-natural” yogurt accounts of most of the differences you laid out in your comment. I’m not defending the use of cheap thickeners in the yogurt making process, but perhaps there is significantly less of it than you hypothesized.

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