- Residue of glyphosate, the most common herbicide used worldwide and a key ingredient in Monsanto's RoundUp, was found in 10 of 11 samples of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, the Organic Consumers Association reported in a press release.
- Rob Michalak, Ben & Jerry's global director of social mission, told The New York Times he is not sure where the glyphosate residue came from. The ice cream company is currently working to ensure that its desserts contain no genetically modified ingredients, and he said that no plant-based ingredients currently in use come from the types of crops that would use glyphosate. However, he added the company needs to better understand the origin of the controversial ingredient.
- In the press release, OCA International Director Ronnie Cummins said, "Ben & Jerry's falsely advertises its products as 'natural' and its brand as 'sustainable' and 'socially responsible.' Nothing could be further from the truth." In an interview with The New York Times, Cummins admitted the amount of glyphosate found in the ice cream was far below limits set by government regulators.
The use of glyphosate has been extremely controversial in the food space.
Some have argued that the herbicide causes cancer in humans, though scientists were divided on the issue after a four-day Environmental Protection Agency meeting last year. In 2015, the World Health Organization classified glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic," but a follow-up report last year from WHO and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations said the chemical was unlikely to cause cancer from residues found in food. Even so, litigation about the potential health risks glyphosate poses continue in several courts. Earlier this year, a California court ruled that the herbicide needs to be labeled as a potential cancer threat.
The long-running debate about glyphosate explains why several organizations — like OCA, Food Democracy Now and The Detox Project — have been testing food products for residue of the chemical. So far, no groups have found anything significant enough to cause health concerns, but the test results have led to calls for boycotts and regulatory reform.
Ben & Jerry's response to the test results speaks volumes about the way the company does business. The Unilever-owned ice cream brand, which has always prided itself on fresh, wholesome and natural ingredients, did not deny the test results may have shown the presence of glyphosate. Instead, the brand says it wants to delve deeper and discover the root of the problem.
That's a smart way for a company to respond to a report like this. By not denying the report, Ben & Jerry's did not give OCA anything to fuel the boycott it was asking for. Instead, the brand presented itself as a willing partner to get rid of an ingredient that consumers may not want to find in their food products. This move to address the concern directly means the ice cream brand could come out relatively unscathed despite what otherwise could be seen as a damning report.
Despite Ben & Jerry's face-saving response, the brand may not have been tarnished by the test result anyway. Earlier this month, a lawsuit filed against General Mills' Nature Valley granola brand over glyphosate was dismissed. The class-action case, which argued that the granola product's claim to be "Made with 100% Natural Oats" was misleading because trace amounts of the chemical were found in products, was tossed because a judge ruled the claim was "simply not plausible."