Touch of Herbicide Troubles Ben & Jerry’s

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

For Ben & Jerry’s, it’s the kind of scoop that gives an ice cream maker indigestion.

The Organic Consumers Association took to the internet on Tuesday to announce it had found traces of glyphosate — the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup — in 10 of 11 samples of the Vermont company’s products.

Tests of pint containers of various flavors showed as little as no detectable findings in Cherry Garcia to as much as 1.74 parts per billion in Chocolate Fudge Brownie, according to the Health Research Institute Laboratories, which conducted the study for the consumer group.

To put that in perspective, an average child would have to eat 145,000 8-ounce servings a day (or an adult would have to consume 290,000 similar portions) to exceed the amount of glyphosate allowed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the testing outfit said.

But when The New York Times broke the news in an article headlined “Traces of Controversial Herbicide Are Found in Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream,” it was clear even the small amount detected could spark a big corporate headache.

“Not having seen all the testing and methodology, it’s difficult to make any clear comments on it,” said Rob Michalak, the ice cream company’s global director of social mission. “Given there’s a report out there, we definitely want to understand it. But we know when organizations hope to raise an issue, oftentimes bringing in Ben & Jerry’s can help draw attention.”

Indeed, the study found hints of glyphosate’s byproduct, aminomethylphosphonic acid, in other national brands including Whole Foods Market’s 365, but that fact isn’t trumpeted on the Organic Consumers Association’s website.

The detection of glyphosate — which all sides believe originated not in the ice cream but instead in nut and grain additions such as peanut butter and cookie dough — is fueling a debate about food safety.

Many government regulators as well as Monsanto, manufacturer of Roundup, believe very low levels of the compound aren’t harmful to humans. But the Organic Consumers Association is one of several groups concerned it could cause cancer and other diseases.

“Vermont and national public interest organizations have lost our patience,” association director Ronnie Cummins said in a statement. “It’s time for Ben & Jerry’s to announce it will immediately begin transitioning to 100 percent organic. Otherwise conscious consumers have no choice but to launch a national and, if necessary, international protest campaign and boycott.”

The association’s website includes a form for people to “tell Ben & Jerry’s CEO Jostein Solheim, aka Scooper Man: ‘Roundup-Ready’ ice cream is not ‘natural’ or ‘socially responsible.’ ”

The website continues: “Behind the iconic ice cream brand’s greenwashed façade lies the tale of a company that built its mega-profitable empire on the back of a #dirtydairy industry that produces contaminated food, poisons Vermont’s waterways, abuses animals, exploits workers, bankrupts farmers and contributes to global warming by supporting GMO monoculture agriculture that strips the soil of its ability to draw down and sequester carbon.”

In response, Ben & Jerry’s acknowledges the company is facing protesters on several fronts, be it about ingredient safety or the group Migrant Justice’s “Milk with Dignity” campaign.

“Recently we’ve been under the attention of organizations trying to bring forward an agenda they feel is important,” Michalak said. “We certainly understand that. We’re a company that has taken positions on issues we feel are important. We have clear intentions on how we want to source our ingredients, and we’re constantly reviewing our supply chain to arrive at a place where our products reflect our values.”

So will Ben & Jerry’s seek out the glyphosate study?

“That’s a good question,” the spokesman replied. “We should see.”