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The confusing connection between weed killer and Ben & Jerry’s

Aug. 19, 2017
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There are some things that do not go together. Take weed killers and ice cream, for example. Glyphosate is a weed killer used in Roundup. The herbicide is "widely used in agriculture", especially genetically modified crops made to tolerate being sprayed with the weed killer. Ben & Jerry’s, an ice cream brand, is known for environmental advocacy. This 39-year-old American company has produced ice cream, frozen yogurt, and sorbets for families to enjoy over the years. So an emergent link between Ben & Jerry’s and glyphosate has become a cause for concern.  

The Organic Consumers Association recently announced that it found traces of glyphosate in 10 of 11 ice cream samples from Ben & Jerry’s. The director of the Organic Consumers Association, Ronnie Cummins, did say that the amount found does not violate the government regulations. The amounts found in Ben & Jerry’s are said to be very small, suggesting that they are not substantial enough to cause any harm to humans. That said, Cummins also pointed out that not everyone agrees with the threshold set by the government for acceptable amounts of glyphosate in food. “And, anyway,” Cummins said, “would you want to be eating this stuff at all?”  

Rob Michalak, the global director of social mission at Ben & Jerry’s, emphasized precautions taken by the company to secure ingredients from natural sources and avoid the use of GMOs. He also relayed confusion regarding the study's conclusion: "We need to better understand where the glyphosate they’re finding is coming from. Maybe it’s from something that’s not even in our supply chain, and so we’re missing it.” Michalak and Cummins both suggested that the origins of the glyphosate might rest with add-ins such as peanut butter and cookie dough. These products could contain ingredients that came from crops exposed to the herbicide.

Now that glyphosate has been found, many organizations have leapt into action in pursuit of a solution. The Federal Drug Administration has conducted tests on products regularly consumed by the American public and has found that many well-known products (such as General Mill’s Cheerios and Ritz Crackers) contain glyphosate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is still determining how dangerous glyphosate can be. The assessment will be used to create limits or guidelines for the use of the herbicide in agriculture. 

Glyphosate has become a main topic after a study linked the weed killer to diseases such as cancer. The study was done in 2015 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Listing a substance as carcinogenic is serious designation, which may be why the agency emphasized that glyphosate “might” be carcinogenic. Studies and tests are still being done. Numerous non-profits have conducted their own studies, with some finding similar results. The consensus is that glyphosate’s use in agriculture needs to be reassessed.

Recently, the Organic Consumers Association and Regeneration Vermont organized a protest. Protesters stood outside Ben & Jerry’s voicing their concerns. Their main goal is to have Ben & Jerry’s change to completely organic ingredients as quickly as possible. Changes like this do not come overnight, but the pressure on immediacy could have this change occur sooner than later.

Read the official Ben & Jerry’s statement here.