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After dire diagnosis, yogurt CEO says organic farming offers realistic hope for U.S. food and nutrition

Stonyfield head talks about the industry at MIT Sloan.
Stonyfield Farm President and 'Ce-Yo' Gary Hirshberg speaks during an MIT Sloan Dean’s Innovative Leader Series event on Sept. 28.
Stonyfield Farm President and 'Ce-Yo' Gary Hirshberg speaks during an MIT Sloan Dean’s Innovative Leader Series event on Sept. 28.
Photo: Justin Knight

Decades of supposed improvements in food production have instead bred waste, destruction and disease, Stonyfield Farm President and Ce-Yo (the company’s term) Gary Hirshberg argued in a talk at MIT Sloan on Sept. 28.

Hirshberg spent nearly 30 minutes detailing the familiar ills and consequence of U.S. farming and nutrition — waste, pesticides, water depletion, destroyed topsoil, cancer and diabetes. All are the result of an “inflationary, linear, non-systematic” approach to food production, he said.

Consumption of chemical-filled foods is driving the human race to disaster in the name of profit, while ignoring the big picture problems and possible solutions, he argued.

“Here’s the good news,” Hirshberg said. “Enormous business opportunities. Enormous research opportunities. I’m serious. It’s going to take a lot of work to fix.”

Hirshberg held up Stonyfield, a New Hampshire organic yogurt manufacturer that does $330 million in annual sales, as an example of a company succeeding with a systematic approach to sustainability and waste reduction and a commitment to organic food.

With a compounded annual growth rate of more than 24 percent over the last 18 years, Stonyfield’s existence mocks suggestions that organic food production can scale up only so far.

Sustainability and waste reduction steps at Stonyfield have resulted in cost savings of more than $18 million since 2006, Hirshberg said. The result: traditionally expensive organic products have come down in price. Hirshberg said he can now offer bulk sales of yogurt to school districts at the same price they pay for non-organic brands.

Hirshberg’s talk, “Inventing a Win-Win-Win-Win-Win Future,” was part of the MIT Sloan Dean’s Innovative Leader Series. The series brings visible and successful global leaders from the business world to share their experiences with MIT Sloan students and the MIT community.

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