For Ben & Jerry’s, hint of herbicide sparks big headache

Ben & Jerry’s
Tests of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream found no detectable glyphosate in Cherry Garcia, while Chocolate Fudge Brownie had 1.74 parts per billion, according to a Health Research Institute Laboratories study. Photo by Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger

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 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.”

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  • Susanna Rodani

    Your argument makes no sense at all from a health perspective, while using terms like “making itself better” in a simplistic trusting of corporate profit motives to do the “best” for the consumers.

    Here is another perspective on science:

    Corporate interests (big money and lobbyists) are heavily invested in food production vertically and health care also vertically, however don’t forget the horizontal connections between industrial pollution and profits in the health care industry.

    And don’t overlook that healthcare now accounts for over 30% of our GNP.

    Another way to look at this came from my doctor, who said jokingly; there is no profit in a nation of healthy people. Just think about that for a minute.

    • Lucas Barrett

      Your argument makes no sense at all from a corporate incentive perspective. Your organic farmers associations live by the same profit motives. What makes you think the organic farm corporate interests are any different than non-organic?

      • Susanna Rodani


        I never once mentioned or used the word organic. I don’t give a hoot about organic. What I do care about is chemical induced neurological disorders, which if you care to look into that subject you will quickly discover that the accumulated effect of introduced antibiotics, pesticides and herbicides in our bodies is making us all sick and costing billions in health care expenditures. Treatment is not very effective and the saddest part is that these chemicals are mostly experimental. We are the Guinea pigs.

        • Lucas Barrett

          I’m sorry. I thought we were debating the difference between eating organic food and non-organic food. I didn’t realize we were debating the benefits of starvation. I’ll follow your advice and try to avoid eating anything that will potentially cause health problems. While I’m at it, I’ll stop exposing my skin to the sun, breathing the air in my house, and cooking my food over fire.
          Back to my original point. You argue that these chemicals are mostly experimental. I say good, I’d rather science be experimenting and measuring the effects of the foods we eat than blindly exposing us. Don’t try to make “experimental” a bad word. Experimentation is what advances us to a higher quality of life and longer life expectancy. I implore you to go take a look at a graph of life expectancy over the last 100 years. Health care may be costing us a lot more but that has more to do with us living longer than it does the damage our food causes.
          I think this is where we agree to disagree.

          • Susanna Rodani

            Experimental on HUMANS. Tested on laboratory animals. Long term testing? NO. Kills fish and invertebrates? YES.
            Messes up human neurological networks and hormonal systems?
            YES. But safe according to industry set thresholds. Are those thresholds measured cumulatively? Not likely.

            To paraphrase Chief Seattle:
            You can be sure that when all else is gone; the potable water, the rivers, the animals, the fresh air, the fertile earth, we will not be able to survive by eating the money made by big pharma and agribusiness. Humanity as we know it is rapidly headed for extinction.

            So you are correct about one thing; we disagree.

    • JohnGreenberg

      ” healthcare now accounts for over 30% of our GNP.” Actually, it’s roughly half that: ca 18%. (17.1% in 2014: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.XPD.TOTL.ZS

      • Susanna Rodani

        Ok John. Thanks for correcting me on that. Do you think that world bank statistic of 17.1% includes our out of pocket expense for health insurance premiums and deductibles?
        I couldn’t find that statistic anywhere.

        In any case, either way this healthcare sucks up a lot of our productivity and the figures are growing way faster that our productivity can keep pace.

        What do you think of that?
        Wouldn’t it be beneficial to educate people to stay healthy by making the choice to not put poisons into our bodies. Poisons come in many forms, not all are obvious but they are still making us sick.



        • JohnGreenberg

          “Do you think that world bank statistic of 17.1% includes our out of
          pocket expense for health insurance premiums and deductibles?” Yes. I’m not absolutely certain, but 1) it appears to and 2) that jibes with all the other estimates I’ve seen. As I understand it, the figure is not dependent on the sources of payments, which are complex and varied, but on ALL of the payments compared to ALL of the GDP.

          “Wouldn’t it be beneficial to educate people to stay healthy by making the choice to not put poisons into our bodies.” Again, yes, of course. But “poisons” and unhealthy lifestyles don’t come close to explaining all medical costs.

          A very high percentage of costs are incurred in the last 6 months of life and like it or not, we’re all going to die, even those who have avoided poisons and lived a healthy lifestyle.

          In addition, many costs are incurred for genetic diseases which are outside of anyone’s control.

  • Thomas Sperry

    You mean Unilever?

  • Dennis Works

    I am not questioning what you said above in general terms, and applaud you for trying to educate people about chemicals in our food supply. But I do take issue with some of the scare tactics you seem all too willing to use. It is true, for example, that casomorphins peptides are naturally found in dairy products, and that they have a mild narcotic effect. That is why they are sometimes described as “comfort foods”, because of the way these chemicals bind to opioid receptors in the nervous system. However, that does NOT mean that these “food opiates” are necessarily unhealthy. As with anything, dosage is relevant, and the amounts in our food products are miniscule. And remember, human milk has the same opiate peptides and mild narcotic effects on the human brain. As a matter-of-fact human milk contains minute levels of actual morphine. There is strong evidence that it is nature’s way of forming a bond between mother and child so the child will naturally seek out the nourishment it needs to thrive.

  • Rich Lachapelle

    The “chemistry set” garbage foods laden with GMOs, pesticide residues and antibiotics are the ones most likely to be found in the grocery carts of those paying with SNAP (food stamp) benefits. Ask anyone who works the cash register in a supermarket. Ergo, the federal gummint is the biggest promoter and subsidizer of these crappy and dangerous foods. Efforts in Congress to remove garbage foods from the SNAP eligibility list over the years have been met with nothing but the sound of crickets.

  • Katharine Hikel MD

    The good news is that Roundup – glyphosate – is a testosterone blocker. So maybe the manarchy has arrived at its own cure: http://www.naturalnews.com/035135_Roundup_herbicide_testosterone.html