Straus Family Creamery Stands Up for Consumers Right to Know – Interview with Albert Straus

 

Straus Family Creamery products featuring new packaging in support of Proposition 37, the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, hit grocery store shelves all across California last week.  The new label, found on Straus reusable glass bottles and yogurt seals, states “We all have a fundamental right to know what’s in the food we eat and feed our children.”

Straus Yogurt Prop 37 Right To Know

 

If passed, Prop 37 would require clear labels letting consumers know if foods are genetically modified and companies would have an 18-month window to make the necessary changes to their packaging.

“The opposition to Prop 37 likes to point out that labeling is too costly for manufacturers and consumers,” says Albert Straus, President of Straus Family Creamery, “but we can show that we only spend a fraction of a cent per bottle to change the entire information on the back side of our milk bottles. We change our packaging several times a year, which is a planned expense. It has absolutely no effect on our bottom line or on the price to the consumer.”

 

I had the opportunity to speak with Albert Straus, president and founder of Straus Family Creamery, last week about his support for GMO labeling and his long standing commitment to a sustainable food system.

EcoBuzz:  The Straus family has used sustainable farming practices for decades and you’re also an advocate for non-GMO farming and dairy production.  When did you first learn about GMOs and how did you become involved with non-GMO farming?
Albert Straus:  Well… (laughs) it goes back a long way.  I started the Creamery four days after they approved rBST, the growth hormone they inject cows with to increase milk production.  rBST is a genetically engineered product.  There was no way to test for rBST in milk at that time so, for many years, I thought about how I could test for it in milk.  In 2005 I became aware of a strip test where you could test corn and soybeans and find out if they were genetically engineered.  It’s a very quick, 5- minute test, that detects for the absence and presence of GMOs down to a certain level.  I started testing my certified organic corn and soybeans and found that my corn was being contaminated with GMOs.  It took us two years to start our own verification program and then in the beginning of 2010 we became the first dairy in North America to be non-GMO verified under the Non-GMO Project.  All our dairies test and verify that their feeds don’t contain GMOs.

 

Straus Milk Bottle Prop 37 Right to KnowEcoBuzz:  You also support labeling foods that contain GMOs.  I recently saw the updated label on your milk bottle that contains a statement in support of the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act (aka Prop 37).  How did that label come to be?
Albert Straus:  We figured out that we wanted to do what we could to help pass this labeling initiative.  The main reason is that consumers have the fundamental right to know what’s in their food and make informed decisions about it.

We actually have three different labels in support of Prop 37.  The quart bottles have text on them, the half gallon bottles have text on them, and the inner seals of our yogurt have text on them as well.

It took us about two months from the time we put the idea together.  Two to two and half weeks to get it designed, get the text approved internally and then a four to six week process to get the actual labels changed and made and the inventory brought in.  The cost is a fraction of a cent per container.  We’re a small company.  We’re tiny compared to national and multi-national companies that do this all the time and run through millions of containers.  If it costs us a tenth of a cent, it costs them a hundredth or thousandth of a cent.  The cost never goes to consumers.  It’s a normal part of doing business.  They’re saying it’s going to cost all this money, I don’t know where they’re getting their information.

 

EcoBuzz:  How often do you update your labels in the normal course of doing business?
Albert Straus:  When we’re doing new products, we’re constantly creating new labels.  It’s done, on average, once a year for most of our products because there is always something we’re changing.  Also, we changed the story on our glass bottles a few times a year for many years.  That’s when we were very small.  It’s a very small expense and it’s part of marketing.  It’s part of what you do.

When we put the Non-GMO Project Verified label on our packaging, we redid all our packaging to do that.  If we have allergens like eggs in the product we have to put that disclaimer on it.  We have to make sure all our labels are up to legal standards.  It’s something that is part of doing everyday business.  It’s not an extra cost.  It’s not any more onerous than anything else we do as a manufacturer.  And farmers actually don’t have any of those expenses.  The farmer growing the corn that is put into cereal or chips does not see any of those expenses.  That’s handled by the manufacturer.

I think a lot of the campaign against Prop 37 is fabricated.  This [labeling] is what we do.  This is what it actually costs.  The opposition says it’s confusing.  It’s not confusing at all.  Consumers look at labels all the time.  There are labels on all retail packaging by law.  Nutritional facts, allergens, all kinds of different requirements, what size, where the information has to be on the package.

Why is it not required for restaurants?  Because restaurants don’t do labels yet.

Prop 37 is a place to start.  It’s a very simple law that’s not going to cause a lot of lawsuits.  It’s not like Prop 65.  There are no monetary incentives.  There are no lawyers lining up to make a lot of money.  The only lawsuits have been from Monsanto and those companies who have been suing farmers out of business for the last 15 years because Monsanto owns the seed that the farmers plant and if their seed gets on someone’s farm then they sue them out of business.  Those companies are the only ones who are going to sue to prevent this from being enacted.

Manufacturers have 18 months to change the label.  It’s a very simple law that is easy for manufacturers to get in line with.  And it’s not expensive.

 

Straus Family Creamery became the first certified organic dairy west of the Mississippi in 1994 and the first Non-GMO Project Verified creamery in the country in 2010.  Their commitment to organic farming includes a wide range of sustainable practices including water reuse, renewable energy from cow manure,  and reusable glass bottles.

The Creamery has supported Prop 37 since the beginning days of collecting signatures to put the measure on the ballot.  In addition to contributing $5,000 to the campaign and donating delicious organic ice cream for events, Straus Family Creamery continually works to raise awareness about genetically engineered foods and the importance of labeling.  We think the new packaging in support of Prop 37 is a wonderful addition to the Creamery’s outreach campaign.  Kudos Straus!

 

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