By Dr. Mercola
Many health and environmentally conscious individuals who enjoy ice cream as an occasional treat feel good about choosing Ben & Jerry's brand. They've painted the idyllic image of a socially responsible company "with a continued commitment to incorporating wholesome, natural ingredients and promoting business practices that respect the Earth and the environment," as they put it.1 Yet, it's just that — an image, not a picture of reality.
As I wrote about earlier this year, Ben & Jerry's has succeeded wildly in one of the greatest greenwashing scams of all time. They promote their Caring Dairy program as involving 300 "family operated" farms, giving the illusion that happily grazing cows produce the rich, creamy milk with which they make their premium ice cream.
Yet, rather than supporting grass fed organic agriculture, they're simply riding on its coattails, pretending their ice cream is a premium product when in fact it's made from the same CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) milk you can find in many other brands. It's true that Ben & Jerry's gets most of its milk from Vermont farms, but that's the rub.
Many people assume that Vermont is home to vast acres of rolling pastures. In reality, as noted by nonprofit advocacy group Regeneration Vermont, the CAFO dairies supplying Ben & Jerry's are unethical for the animals and destroying the state's waterways. According to Regeneration Vermont, in a report titled, "A Failure to Regulate: Big Dairy & Water Pollution in Vermont:"2
"[C]ontamination from the mega-dairies that supply Vermont's big brands, like Ben & Jerry's and Cabot Cheese, is nothing new to Vermonters,3 especially when it comes to the contamination of our waterways. For decades, these iconic brands have garnered enormous profits — each hovering around the $1 billion-a-year level — while pushing a kind of confinement, non-grazing dairy production, resulting in a toxic farm runoff that is literally choking our lakes and streams.
Even the beloved Lake Champlain is one of more than 100 other bodies of water in Vermont that are classified as 'impaired.' And, in many cases, 'impaired' means filled with the green slime that is cyanobacteria, smelling so badly that summer camps have become uninhabitable, and beaches are posted with signs that warn, 'no swimming.'"
Ben & Jerry's Has Been Polluting Vermont for 20 Years
This isn't news to Ben & Jerry's, of course. Despite being told of the damage their dairy suppliers are creating in the environment, the company has refused to transition their farmers to an organic, regenerative solution for two decades. Michael Colby, former editor of Food & Water Journal and co-founder of Regeneration Vermont, stated:4
"It was 20 years ago last month that Food & Water published our report on Vermont's atrazine addiction, a toxic herbicide that is banned in Europe but continues to be used in abundance on Vermont's 92,000 acres of GMO-derived feed corn — all for dairy cows. We used the report to get the attention of Ben & Jerry's, and it worked. We thought when the doors swung open to the offices of Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield themselves that we'd be able to make the case to them.
Our plea at the time was the same as it is today: Ben & Jerry's should practice what it preaches and help transition its farmers to organic production. If they took the lead, we argued, the entire state could begin a transition away from the kind of industrial, commodity-based dairy system that is wreaking so much havoc with Vermont's agriculture …
We thought the obvious imbalance — and even direct, outright hypocrisy — between what Ben & Jerry's was doing and what they were saying would be enough to get these do-good hippies to do the right thing. We were using logic. Because, certainly, the corporation that wanted to 'save the planet' and 'put the planet before profits' would want to stop being one of the state's top polluters, right?
Wrong. We were told at the time, by Ben himself, after a year's worth of meetings and even an offer of a job to me 'to work with us instead of going after us,' that Ben & Jerry's was not going to transition to organic because it wouldn't allow them to 'maximize profits.'"
Ben & Jerry's Executives Forced to Visit Contaminated Lake Carmi
Lake Carmi in Franklin, Vermont, is a favorite spot for recreation and supports northern pike, walleyes and other warm-water species — or at least, it once did. The once pristine lake is now in environmental crisis, plagued by blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria. It can produce toxins that are harmful to humans and marine life. Skin rashes and respiratory issues can result from exposure to the algae, and should it get into an open wound, it can lead to a staph infection.5
As fertilizer and manure from industrial farms run off and enter waterways, they lead to an overabundance of nutrients, including nitrogen and phosphorus, in the water — nutrients that fertilize the growth of the algae blooms now taking over. What does this have to do with Ben & Jerry's? Regeneration Vermont explained:6
"Lake Carmi sits at ground zero for the state's industrial dairy industry, Franklin County, home to more than 36,000 confined cows (and only 47,000 people), creating a staggering amount of phosphorus-rich manure. This county's mega-farms are the primary dairy suppliers for Ben & Jerry's ice cream."
Ben & Jerry's continues to turn a blind eye toward the devastation, so Regeneration Vermont and members of the Franklin Watershed Committee made them an offer they couldn't refuse: tour Lake Carmi and the surrounding watershed to see the damage firsthand.
In a commentary by Jostein Solheim, Ben & Jerry's CEO, it's noted, "Ben & Jerry's recognizes that we are connected to the farms in the Lake Carmi watershed. Our Caring Dairy farm program, which we implement through the St. Albans Cooperative, has members in the Lake Carmi watershed."7
Solheim then goes on to state, "[The Ben & Jerry's team] found it tragic to see the polluted condition of this usually beautiful lake, which is currently experiencing the worst cyanobacteria bloom in recent memory. The condition of the lake, the hardship it's forced upon local residents and businesses is, well, heartbreaking." At least progress is happening in that Regeneration Vermont was able to get Ben & Jerry's CEO out to see the contaminated lake.
The rest of the commentary, though, reads like a piece of fluff, with Solheim praising the company's Caring Dairy farm program and stressing that the problems created "are not ours alone to solve."
It mentions a "renewed vision for dairy farming in Vermont" and notes that "many more details of our vision for the future of our farms" will be available soon. In other words, it's reminiscent of the many conversations Regeneration Vermont has had with Ben & Jerry's in the past. As noted by Will Allen, owner of Cedar Circle Farm, a regenerative farm in Vermont, and Regeneration Vermont co-founder:8
"Stalling has been refined to an art form with Ben & Jerry's social mission and dairy teams. In April 2016, they felt that they would have a decision on changing their dairy sourcing by September/October 2016. When October came, they felt that they would have a decision by December. In December, we were told that February or March would be when they made their sourcing decision.
In February, a Unilever director offered to set up meetings with Ben & Jerry's CEO and us (Regeneration Vermont) and Roger Allbee, the former Vermont secretary of agriculture. Six months later, we are still hoping to have that meeting. Finally, April or May was to be the target date for making sourcing decisions. [As of] … July — still no decision, still no meeting with the CEO. Still stalling."
Ben & Jerry's Is Not Organic; Ice Cream Tested Positive for Glyphosate Residue
Ben & Jerry's has managed to scoot by under the radar of even the most environmentally conscious consumers by creating an aura of a socially responsible organic company without actually being one.
They have no reason to switch to organic or grass fed farming because, as Colby put it, "the marketing is working just fine." "'People think we're organic,' is what we were told time and time again in private meetings," Colby says, "while asking them to actually go organic. If fooling people allows for maximizing profits, why stop fooling them?"9
Yet, you might be surprised to learn that, in July 2017, the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) reported that 10 of 11 samples of Ben & Jerry's ice cream they tested came back positive for glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide and/or its main metabolite AMPA.10
In response, OCA called on Ben & Jerry's to immediately transition to using only organic ingredients, including milk, "or face a national and international consumer boycott." Echoing Regeneration Vermont, OCA international director Ronnie Cummins also called out Ben & Jerry's for deceiving the public with a greenwashed image:11
"Ben & Jerry's falsely advertises its products as 'natural' and its brand as 'sustainable' and 'socially responsible.' Nothing could be further from the truth. Ben & Jerry's profits are built on the back of an industrial dairy system that poisons the environment and produces pesticide-contaminated food products. Ben & Jerry's sales, driven in large part by its deceitful claims, damage the organic industry by cutting into the sales of authentic natural, grass-fed and organic producers."
On a brighter note, more than 200 (about 20 percent) of the dairy farms in Vermont have already made the transition to organic farming, through no help from Ben & Jerry's. This is a good start, but hundreds more need to follow suit. Also, these problems are hardly restricted to Vermont. Industrial dairy farms across the U.S. are contributing to the destruction of our environment and human health.
Support Grass Fed Organic Farmers, Even When Buying Ice Cream
A key message both Cummins and Allen deliver is the importance of avoiding all CAFO animal products, be it beef, poultry, eggs, milk or other dairy products such as ice cream. One of the most impactful changes you as an individual can make is to switch from CAFO animal products to organic, grass fed beef and dairy that doesn't rely on such destructive practices. Many do not realize this, but grazing animals are actually a very important part of the ecology and can even play a role in regenerating the environment.
Since the early 1800s, grasslands in North America have decreased by 79 percent — and in some areas by 99.9 percent,12 oftentimes to plant GMO corn and soy fields, which in turn are fed to herbivores that could be grazing instead of eating grains fed to them on concrete. As Allen stated:13
"It's time to stop pretending that Ben & Jerry's is a socially or environmentally conscious corporation. They know how damaging their milk supply chain is. They know that labor is being abused. They know that cows are burning out before they are five years old. They know that antibiotics were being misused.
They know that the dairies that supply their milk are polluting our drinking water and most of the rivers and lakes in Vermont. They can't pretend that they didn't know how damaging their supply chain is, because we shared all this data with them. Yet they refuse to act."
Indeed, Regeneration Vermont is among those urging the ice cream maker to source milk from organic/regenerative farmers, which would signal to desperate dairy farmers struggling to make a living amid an industrial milk glut that there's another, viable option, another way to farm. Until that time, support dairy farmers who are producing raw, grass fed milk products, and food manufacturers sourcing grass fed milk, not those perpetuating the CAFO model.
Getting your raw grass fed milk and other food from a local organic farm or co-op is one of the best ways to ensure you're getting high-quality food, and if you're in the mood for a treat, you can make your own grass fed milk ice cream at home. In the Midwest, the Kalona SuperNatural brand is the first dairy brand to become certified by the American Grassfed Association (AGA).
An AGA logo on a product lets you know the animals were fed a lifetime diet of 100 percent forage, were raised on pasture (not in confinement) and were not treated with hormones or antibiotics.14 I strongly encourage you to seek out AGA certified dairy products as they become more widely available. You can also locate a raw, grass fed milk source near you at the Campaign for Real Milk website. California residents can find raw grass fed milk retailers by using the store locator available at www.OrganicPastures.com.
Tell Ben & Jerry's to Start Living Up to Their Image
OCA has created a petition15 to encourage Ben & Jerry's to convert to organic and stop hoodwinking customers into thinking they're organic by claiming to be all-natural and environmentally responsible. Please show your support for this initiative by signing the petition below. Better yet, call Ben & Jerry's directly (802-846-1500) and ask the company to fulfill their mission statement and go organic.
You can also send them a message using the online contact form at the bottom of their contact page. Please give them a call, and ask your family and friends to contact them as well. Remember, you have the power to make a difference.