BURLINGTON – A handful of protesters gathered outside of Ben & Jerry’s on Church Street on Thursday afternoon, as part of nationwide demonstrations to voice concerns over the use of herbicide.
The event was organized by the Organic Consumers Association and Regeneration Vermont, two groups that are pushing Ben & Jerry’s to make the switch to producing organic ice cream.
Demonstrators handed out free scoops of organic vanilla ice cream to help make their point, and handed out leaflets to passersby.
The New York Times first reported on July 25 that several flavors of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream tested positive for glyphosate, an herbicide. The highest amounts found were well below limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Laura Peterson, the company’s director of public relations, said the company’s ice cream is “delicious and perfectly safe to eat.”
“If the testing is accurate, we are not happy about it, but we are also not surprised,” she said in an interview. “Glyphosate is everywhere. It is the most pervasive herbicide in the U.S., and it’s just ubiquitous.”
“We would love to work with others to reduce the chemicals in our food supply, including glyphosate,” Peterson said.
Glyphosate has been discovered in organic ice creams, and is one of the most widely-used herbicides in agriculture. The substance is an ingredient in Roundup, a common weedkiller.
Janet Zampieri, of Tucson, Arizona, was one of the protesters holding signs by the scoop shop entrance. She decided to attend the protest with her husband while vacationing in Vermont.
“We all want to be eating organic and moving to a more natural and toxic free food industry, Zampieri said.
She said a switch to organic would help bring an end to factory farming in the dairy industry, which she said leads to cruel treatment and poisoning of animals.
Thetford resident Will Allen, a member of Regeneration Vermont, spoke to a reporter while taking a break from scooping organic local ice cream – not from Ben & Jerry’s.
“What we’re trying to do is dramatize the fact that there’s a lot of problems with Ben & Jerry’s ice cream,” he said. “It’s not just that there’s Roundup in the ice cream, it’s that there’s water pollution, there’s labor abuse, there’s animal abuse, and we’re seeing a lot of farmer bankruptcies.”
Allen said the Ben & Jerry’s brand to him represents the opposite of what he believes Vermont stands for.
“We feel like what we’re trying to do is convince people that we have to change Vermont, because these companies aren’t going to,” he said.
Picketers didn’t deter a steady flow of customers from heading inside to purchase ice cream. Several passersby stopped to argue against the activists’ claims that the company’s product is unsafe.
The event failed to meet expectations: A news release from the Organic Consumers Association said that protesters would enter the store wearing hazmat suits, purchase ice cream, and dump it outside into a hazardous waste container. No hazmat suits were in sight on Thursday afternoon, and picketers did not seem to be aware of any such plans.
Similar protests had been scheduled to take place in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the country.