Watchdog: Ice cream maker fails to clean up processing
It’s summer in America, and that means plenty of ice cream. But according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday by a consumer foodadvocacy group, if your choice of ice cream is Ben & Jerry’s, it may come with a swirl of pesticides.
With wacky flavors and a dogooder reputation, the company was the second-largest ice cream brand in the U.S. last year, with $801 million in sales, according to Euromonitor. Ben & Jerry’s doesn’t just taste good, the company promises, it does good. “Values-led sourcing” means that some ingredients are Fair Trade and all are non-GMO, the ice cream maker pledges on its website; the most important one — milk — comes from “Caring Dairy” farms, it says. The website defines the term as including animal welfare monitoring and farmer and farmworker standards.
The Organic Consumers Association alleges, however, that Ben & Jerry’s isn’t keeping its word. The consumer watchdog said in a complaint filed in District of Columbia Superior Court in Washington that the company and its parent, European food giant Unilever, have engaged in deceptive marketing by misleading shoppers into thinking they’re buying an environmentally friendly treat.
According to the lawsuit, the ice cream is made from milk sourced from the same kinds of farms as most other dairy products and the final product contains the pesticide glyphosate.
Unilever, according to the complaint, “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 & Jerry’s declined to comment on the lawsuit. However, in response to a news report on the presence of the pesticide, the company said last summer that it was working to improve its sourcing to avoid such substances appearing in its products.
Though the “Caring Dairy Standards” page of the Ben & Jerry’s website states that meeting the program’s basics is “required for all farmers,” the Organic Consumers Association’s lawsuit alleged that the ice cream maker’s milk comes from a cooperative in St. Albans City, Vt.; that less than 25 percent of that co-op’s suppliers met the Caring Dairy standards; and that the co-op doesn’t separate the milk according to whether it originated from a farm that adheres to Caring Dairy standards.
Ben & Jerry’s and St. Albans Cooperative Creamery didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The association takes issue with the brand’s use of environmentally friendly imagery. In its lawsuit, the group said that lab tests it commissioned show that some Ben & Jerry’s flavors contain low levels of glyphosate, a widely used pesticide. Ben & Jerry’s has said it was “concerned” that the pesticide was there, and it is committed to “no more ingredients using glyphosate-dried crops” and is creating a new line made with 100 percent organic dairy.
Katherine Paul of the Organic Consumers Association said the “big picture goal is for Ben & Jerry’s to do the right thing.”
“Imagine if they took some money and instead of using it for misleading advertising, helped Vermont dairy farmers transition away from conventional farming,” she said. But “short of that,” she said, we want them to “stop misleading consumers.”
Ben & Jerry’s was the secondlargest ice cream brand in 2017.