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There’s an Ugly Secret In Your Ben & Jerry’s

A warning for Ben & Jerry’s fans—the following news is going to bum you out. This week, a watchdog agency called the Organic Consumers Association announced that it had identified trace amounts of glyphosate—the widely used herbicide and the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, as well as other weedkillers—and AMPA, the main metabolite in glyphosate in several Ben & Jerry’s products. OCA called the findings “deceitful” by Ben & Jerry’s and damaging to the organic industry.

Nigella Lawson's One-Step, No-Churn Ice Cream
Nigella Lawson’s One-Step, No-Churn Ice Cream
by Kristen Miglore

In independent lab testing, 10 out of 11 ice creams tested positive: Peanut Butter Cup, Peanut Butter Cookie, Vanilla (2 samples), Cherry Garcia, Phish Food, The Tonight Dough, Half Baked, Chocolate Fudge Brownie, Americone Dream and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. Just one flavor, Cherry Garcia, was free and clear of both glyphosate and AMPA. Thank goodness, because Cherry Garcia is the brand’s second most popular ice cream.

As of 2016, the World Health Organization says that “there is some evidence of a positive association between glyphosate exposure and risk of NHL (non-Hodgin’s Lymphoma)” but that “glyphosate is unlikely to be genotoxic at anticipated dietary exposures.” Research from another institution later in 2016, however, found contrary results—that chronic exposure to an “ultra low dose” of glyphosate was enough to induce fatty liver disease in rats by three months. By itself, the state of California classifies glyphosate as a known carcinogen. Suffice it to say, the pesticide is as controversial as ever.

To be clear, the amount of glyphosate and/or AMPA found in each flavor is very small—well below the maximum set by the EPA. Of the 10 flavors, Chocolate Fudge Brownie tested the highest at 1.74 parts per billion for glyphosate and 0.91 parts per billion for AMPA. To reach the EPA’s limit, you would have to eat 290,000 eight-ounce servings, or 50,000 servings under the European Union’s guidelines, which are more stringent.

That said, the findings do add a wrinkle to Ben & Jerry’s long legacy, one that has prioritized environmentalism, organic agriculture, and the labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs)—which have been eliminated from production of its ice cream pints (but not bars) as of 2014, according to the Ben & Jerry’s website. (Though terms non-GMO and pesticide-free are not equivalent, the use of certain pesticides typically requires that plants be genetically modified in order to withstand treatment—i.e., not kill the crop itself.)

The Easiest (Strawberry-Buttermilk) Ice Cream You'll Make All Summer
The Easiest (Strawberry-Buttermilk) Ice Cream You’ll Make All Summer
by Posie Harwood

For its part, Ben & Jerry’s says it is committed to weeding out the weedkiller in its entirety:
“We’re working to transition away from G.M.O., as far away as we can get,” Rob Michalak, global director of social mission at Ben & Jerry’s, told The New York Times. “But then these tests come along, and 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.”

To be honest, this finding is probably not going to affect my own Ben & Jerry’s buying habits, especially since my favorite flavor, Mint Chocolate Cookie, wasn’t tested. In the meantime, let’s all stock up on Cherry Garcia.

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