UNITY — Danone North America last summer announced it will end contracts with 89 organic dairy farmers in the Northeast, from Maine to upstate New York. Now Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association is petitioning to have the company’s B Corporation certification reconsidered.

B Lab, the organization that administers the certification, measures a company’s entire social and environmental performance and certifies companies that meet high standards of verified performance, according to its website.

The designation commits companies to transparency and accountability and requires them to consider the long-term effects of their actions on stakeholders.

MOFGA has joined with other organizations in the Northeast to get 7,739 signatures for an online petition submitted to B Lab requesting it to review Danone’s B Corporation status, MOFGA Executive Director Sarah Alexander said. The nonprofit claims that Danone is not considering the long-term effects on the dairy farmers whose contracts it will terminate next August. “Leaving the entire region abruptly really goes against the values of community,” she said.

There are 14 organic dairy farms affected in Maine, two of which are located in Waldo County and one in Knox County, she said. The decision could have devastating consequences for family-owned farms that their owners intended to pass down through family generations.

Many dairy farmers must plan their production years in advance and giving only one year’s notice to terminate contracts throughout the Northeast is not enough time to plan, Alexander said. A few years ago Danone moved its processing plant to Buffalo, New York, and now it is having difficulties transporting the product to the facility.

Danone issued a statement to The Republican Journal by email stating that the company has been in contact with all the farmers affected. The company is still committed to the farmers in the East and will continue to buy product from hundreds of small family organic dairy farms in the region, the statement said.

The decision to end the contracts resulted from challenges with transporting the product to the processing facility in western New York, the company said. The transportation challenges are not caused by pandemic complications, it said, and the one-year notice is significantly longer than what other companies would give.

The company will continue to pay a price premium for the milk from the affected farms, it said in the statement. It is also discussing other options for the farmers. “We are working closely with relevant state and federal agencies to discuss our efforts and collaborate on how best to support the producers in finding new homes for their milk,” the statement said.

Alexander said the transportation challenges could have been worked out in other ways. She thinks new infrastructure plans at the federal and state level could improve transportation of products. “There are other ways that they could have worked with the community to come up with solutions, and they didn’t do that,” she said.

She has not yet heard back from B Lab regarding the petition, she said. But she said MOFGA and other organizations will continue fighting for farms in the region.

“We have wonderful farmers here in Maine,” Alexander said. “They produce really, incredibly high-quality organic dairy products, and we are committed at MOFGA, in this region and the whole state to working on finding solutions for this. And I’m hopeful that we’ll come out of this stronger, but we hope that Danone takes some responsibility for their actions, for leaving the entire region.”

 

Related Headlines