Pesticides in Your Ice Cream? Ben and Jerry’s Sued for Deceptive Marketing
How about some pesticides with your scoop of Phish Food or Cherry Garcia? According to a new lawsuit, that’s what you’re getting when you order ice cream from beloved American ice cream company, Ben and Jerry’s.
Ben and Jerry’s was the second most popular ice-cream company in the U.S. last year and managed a whopping $801 million in sales. However, the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) has accused Ben and Jerry’s and its parent company Unilever of misleading the public and engaging in deceptive marketing practices to convince people they are buying an environmentally safe product.
The OCA lawsuit claims that the ice-cream is made from milk which is sourced from the same farms as most dairy products and contains the pesticide glyphosate. Lab tests ordered by the OCA found low amounts of glyphosate in the flavors it tested which included Phish Food and Chocolate Fudge Brownie.
Glyphosate is on trial now in a first of its kind lawsuit against Monsanto. Hundreds of people have sued Monsanto claiming its weedkiller Roundup caused their cancer. The main weed-killing ingredient in Roundup is glyphosate. Last September the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said that glyphosate is likely not carcinogenic to humans while the World Health Organization classified glyphosate in 2015 as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
Ben and Jerry’s Irresponsible and Deceptive Marketing
Ben and Jerry’s marketing promotes itself as an environmentally responsible and natural product. Their website uses the slogan “We make the best possible ice cream in the best possible way.” Below the slogan, they tout their “caring dairy”, “cage-free eggs”, “Non-GMO” and “fair trade” ingredients.
“Their advertising is clearly intended to create the perception that this is a company that cares deeply about animal welfare, the environment and climate change,” said Katherine Paul, associate director of the OCA, in an interview. “We felt it was important to expose them for what they’re actually doing to the environment.”
In 2000, Unilever, which is one of the largest consumer goods companies in the world, bought Ben and Jerry’s. Prior to the sale Ben and Jerry’s had built a reputation around it’s environmental and socially responsible practices. The founders actively spoke out against the use of rBGH, a growth hormone given to cows to stimulate milk production.
The OCA lawsuit says Unilever is “building on Ben & Jerry’s reputation as an environmentally responsible company to deceive consumers into believing that the products are made with humane and environmentally responsible practices.”
Ben and Jerry’s has yet to comment on the lawsuit though they did claim last summer that they were working towards improving the sourcing of their products. They said in a statement last year that their sourcing practices had flaws.
“As we have been evaluating our current dairy supply chain, and while we have worked diligently over the past 7 years to improve farm practices, we fully acknowledge that it is not where we would want it to be,” the company said and added it was “actively exploring ways” to stop “operating in the same broken system.”
Ben and Jerry’s released an earlier statement regarding the presence of glyphosate in its ice cream. The statement said the company was “concerned” but “not totally surprised” as the presence of glyphosate was everywhere including in mainstream food, natural and organic food and even rainwater. The company also downplayed the significance of the findings.
“In the US, the trace levels reported of glyphosate in the tested Ben & Jerry’s flavors at a rate of parts per billion (ppb) ranged from 0-1.74 ppb. To put that in context, recent studies found organic whole wheat bread tested 78 times higher and a popular whole grain oat breakfast cereal results were 646 times higher. The levels found in Ben & Jerry’s products “would seem totally irrelevant” according to the Health Research Institute Laboratories representative who performed the test,” said the company statement.
Ben and Jerry’s in Vermont
Dairy companies such as Ben and Jerry’s contribute more than $2 billion into the economy of Vermont, however, this does come without environmental cost according to Michael Colby of Regeneration Vermont, an environmental nonprofit.
“There’s a myth out there that Vermont is bucolic and natural, and the cows are all on grass, but the reality now in Vermont is that almost all dairy cows are in a lifetime of confinement — they never see the light or put their hoofs on grass — and the farming relies extensively on pesticides,” said Colby to Bloomberg News.
Colby has been lobbying for a change in Ben and Jerry’s sourcing practices for decades. He has even taken people on “drive-by tours of various Vermont dairy farms to show barrels of pesticides, manure pits, dilapidated migrant labor housing and green, foamy, cyanobacteria-infected water in Lake Carmi. He goes of his way not to blame local farmers, though, arguing that they are forced to cut corners to keep afloat, as Bloomberg reported.