Ben & Jerry’s is making changes to how it sources some of its ice cream ingredients, following the discovery that consumers may have been eating trace amounts of a common weed killer without knowing it.
Groups including the agricultural reform advocates at Regeneration Vermont have been critical of the brand in recent years, after lab testing revealed some Ben & Jerry’s products can contain very faint amounts of glyphosate.
Glyphosate is a chemical used as both a weed killer and a drying agent for wheat and nuts, and is believed to sneak into the ice cream through cookies and other mix-ins.
“Ben and Jerry’s pretends like they're always the goody-two-shoes guys, but in this case, there are real problems with high pesticide use and high fertilizer use,” Will Allen of Regeneration Vermont said at a protest of the Ben & Jerry’s scoop shop in Burlington on August 10.
The company acknowledged that while the discovery of the herbicide may have shocked some people, it wasn’t terribly surprised, given how common glyphosate is in agriculture.
“The chemical is ubiquitous in our global food system,” said Chris Miller, the social mission activism manager at Ben & Jerry’s. “This is not an issue of safety in our mind.”
Miller said the trace amounts of herbicide found in the ice cream are so incredibly low, you’d have to eat roughly 72,500 pints a day to hit the EPA’s danger zone. He noted that modern lab tests are able to isolate far tinier levels of substances than were detectable in the past.
Still, Miller told NBC Boston that Ben & Jerry’s is taking this issue very seriously.
The company announced this week that by the year 2020, it’ll stop buying ingredients made with crops dried using glyphosate.
Ben & Jerry’s is also promising to advocate for less chemically-intense farming methods, Miller said.
“People ought to know what’s in their food,” Miller said.
Customers NBC Boston met at Ben & Jerry’s flagship scoop shop on Burlington’s Church Street Marketplace appeared focused on enjoying their treats, not worrying about how they were made.
“What’s important for me is the taste, it’s not the ingredients,” said Dan Folkman, a traveler to Vermont from Israel who was eating Ben & Jerry’s Wednesday.
“If you’re constantly worrying about your health, life is no fun,” said traveler Don Hull of Ohio, another customer at the downtown Burlington scoop shop.
The company also announced it will launch a new product line next year, which will be made with a dairy mix that is 100 percent organic.
Miller said Ben & Jerry’s expects that line made from organic cream to represent up to six percent of sales in the United States.
The company wrote more about its sustainable agriculture vision in this blog post.