Watch­dog: Ice cream maker fails to clean up pro­cess­ing

Santa Fe New Mexican - - NATION - By Deena Shanker

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.”

DANIEL ACKER/BLOOMBERG NEWS

Ben & Jerry’s was the sec­ond­largest ice cream brand in 2017.

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