Farmers seem to be under a constant barrage of attacks from all sides about our production methods. The misinformation and fear-mongering is so prevalent that it seems endless. For most people, understanding what this is like is probably somewhat difficult. When you have put so much energy into a product, something that you are incredibly proud of, it really sucks to have people tell the public that it is dangerous or bad.
That’s where Ben & Jerry’s comes in.
The ice cream company has been a very vocal advocate against genetically modified foods. In 2014, Ben & Jerry’s made a commitment to swap out any ingredients that were GMOs from their products. While the company was not able to source all of its dairy products from cows eating only non-GMO feed, it still has such a goal. In addition, Ben & Jerry’s was also a very vocal and financial advocate for GMO labeling laws. In fact, they donated a portion of all sales to help support lawsuits defending Vermont’s disastrous labeling law (which has now been preempted by federal law).
Ben & Jerry’s position and public statements have added to the smear campaigns against biotechnology, with family farmers getting caught in the middle.
But now, the tides have turned and it looks like Ben & Jerry’s is at the center of controversy. In an article published by the New York Times, it was revealed that Ben & Jerry’s ice cream may contain trace amounts of glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide Round-Up. And, uh, who wants to eat herbicides; right?!
Now, a cautionary word. Trace amounts of lots of things are found in our food, but that doesn’t mean it is dangerous or a problem. Despite how icky you might feel supporting such a company, eating Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is not going to hurt you, at least not because of any trace amounts of glyphosate. Furthermore, this story is being pushed by the Organic Consumers Association in an effort to browbeat Ben & Jerry’s into going all organic. These types of tactics are not uncommon from organic activist organizations – either you’re all in or we’ll make you out to be the devil himself.
But that cautionary word isn’t going to help Ben & Jerry’s at all. After all, they helped create this sensationalist media mess.
The company has had a barrage of nasty comments from their former customers that are now concerned about these trace amounts of pesticide residue. Because, yeah, who wants to eat herbicides anyway?! In a statement about the New York Times article, Ben & Jerry’s ends up actually making the same scientific arguments that all of us have been making for years now, including against some of the claims by the company itself. That is, these trace amounts are harmless and you wouldn’t be able to eat enough ice cream for the residue to hurt you (see more: pesticide residue calculator).
I almost feel sorry for the company being caught in such a position, that is, if they hadn’t been such vocal critics against family farmers and the crops we produce for so long now. And that’s the moral of the story: aligning yourself with the devil is fine until he wants more from you.
Ben & Jerry’s gets to feel a small fraction of what family farmers have been feeling for years now. You make a product that you know is good, and someone comes along to falsely tell the world that it is dangerous and harming people and the environment. The wonderful irony here is that it is the Organic Consumers Association, one of Ben & Jerry’s former allies against GMOs, that is pushing the smear campaign.
Ben & Jerry’s is simply getting a taste of their own medicine. Too bad.