Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, that little company from Vermont with the silly names for its yummy, expensive ice cream and other frozen concoctions, has joined the state’s effort to pass legislation requiring GMO labeling. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, who are no strangers to public comment and social action, announced their support May 30 for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), the Right to Know GMOs Coalition, and a number of local businesses and summer support staff who have kicked off a renewed effort to pass the labeling legislation.
The Vermont House of Representatives approved a bill with a 99-42 vote in favor of GMO labeling on May 10. The initiative will be considered in the State Senate in early 2014, because the session ended prior to its introduction this spring. Ben & Jerry’s action follows their corporate vow to be GMO-free with all of its flavors by the end of the year, and they note their packaging will be redesigned to reflect their non-GMO status by 2014 as well.
The company has, since its founding in 1978, taken an activist role in support of a wide variety of social issues, among them fair trade and living wage initiatives, as well as supporting humane farming, “happy cows,” natural ingredients in their product line, and eco-friendly practices in packaging.
Connecticut and a group of other Northeastern states are considering similar labeling legislation; Connecticut’s bill has passed in its senate, but must be considered by the other legislators in the house of representatives. Passage in several of the states would, under a cooperative agreement, mandate adoption of labeling in other associated states.
Also, on May 30, Ben & Jerry’s founders were each in the news for other reasons: Jerry Greenfield threw the company’s support behind Washington state’s Initiative 522, an effort to institute GMO labeling in that state, and plans to campaign personally in Seattle in September as well as giving away “tons” of ice cream, sending a “scoop truck” to Seattle and sponsoring billboards in support of the initiative.
Ben Cohen, for his part, plans to speak out in Washington, D.C., on June 18, against what he terms political “bribes.” The issue is “getting the money out of politics,” he says of the effort called “Stamp Stampede” which he started in 2012. His campaign includes stamping messages on dollar bills to raise awareness as the bills are circulated. He, too, plans to offer “free scoops” at Union Station in the capital.
Watch the video about Ben & Jerry’s activism
Twenty-six of the company’s flavors are already fully non-GMO, according to the company, and 80 per cent of the ingredients used in all its products are non-GMO. The company currently lists on its website which of its flavors contain no GMOs, and has vowed to post updates as it shifts its operations to eliminate all modified ingredients.
One problem cited by many food manufacturers is the difficulty of tracing products down the food supply chain; Ben & Jerry’s says that it may be difficult, but that its suppliers are fully behind the effort, and noted in February that at its production facility in the Netherlands it currently produces all non-GMO products. A February story in the Organic and Non-GMO Report stated: “Several factors spurred Ben & Jerry’s to go non-GMO, says Rob Michalak, the company’s global director of social mission. First is a commitment to transparency and consumers’ right to know.”
The ice cream company’s website notes: “We have a long history of siding with consumers and their right to know what’s in their food. We fought long and hard for labeling of rBGH, which was the first genetically engineered technology used in the US food system. We thank and encourage all those who are continuing this fight in support of transparency and the consumer’s right to know.”
It was Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders who led the fight in the U.S. Senate last week to pass a national GMO labeling bill, partly because, he said, he wanted to protect individual states against suits from Monsanto. His bill was defeated on the eve of the nationwide March Against Monsanto May 25, led by activists who want GMOs banned from food products.
Vermont’s measure, though, even if passed by the state senate, will probably not go into effect for two years, and it would not affect meat, milk, or eggs from animals that were fed or treated with genetically engineered substances, including GMO corn and the rBGH cattle hormone, according to a report in Grist.