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Danone to terminate organic milk contracts in Northeast

Global food company Danone has given a year’s notice to 89 organic dairy farms in the Northeast that it will stop buying their milk on Aug. 31, 2022. The decision is just the latest squeeze on organic dairy producers, who face rising costs and pressures to consolidate. Maine Gov. Janet Mills said Danone’s decision “is a devastating setback for Maine’s organic dairy community.”

Other organic dairy processors in the Northeast appear to have limited capacity to accept new producers, reported the Vermont Digger. It quoted Vermont Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts as saying, “This is a regional decision” by Danone that affected organic dairies in Maine, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont.

Danone North America, owner of Horizon Organic, said it had sent non-renewal notices to 89 producers in the Northeast. “We … did not make this decision lightly. Growing transportation and operational challenges in the dairy industry, particularly in the Northeast, led to this difficult decision,” it said in a statement. “We will be supporting new partners that better align with our manufacturing footprint.”

Tebbetts said he would assemble a task force to address the issue. “This is a significant problem, because these farmers have few choices on where to sell their milk,” he told the Digger. “Our goal over the coming weeks is to save these organic farmers. It may take multiple strategies.”

In Maine, the governor said her administration “will work diligently to help those who will be losing their contracts.” A working group organized by the state Agriculture Department will look at short- and long-term strategies to help the 14 affected organic dairy farms and support the overall viability of the state’s dairy industry.

Dairy farmer Abbie Corse, a member of the board of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, said loopholes in the USDA’s National Organic Program were a factor. “It’s allowing larger farms to enter into the marketplace where small farmers were,” she told the Digger. “I know that it has been an articulated priority of our congressional delegation to continue to push on the loopholes being closed, specifically for the origin of livestock and the pasture rule.”

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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