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Ben & Jerry's — 20 Years of Greenwashing

I recently wrote about the greenwashing of organic milk, and how organic dairies, such as Aurora Organic, are nothing but concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in disguise that are unfairly putting true organic dairy farmers out of business with low quality milk. Few companies are as bad as Ben & Jerry's, however, when it comes to greenwashing and failing to live up to stated mission goals.

Ben & Jerry's vision statement includes social, product quality, environmental and economic missions1 that aim "to create linked prosperity for everyone that's connected to our business:"2

Social Mission: To operate the company in a way that actively recognizes the central role that business plays in society by initiating innovative ways to improve the quality of life locally, nationally and internationally.

Product Mission: To make, distribute and sell the finest quality ice cream and euphoric concoctions with a continued commitment to incorporating wholesome, natural ingredients and promoting business practices that respect the Earth and the environment.

Economic Mission: To operate the company on a sustainable financial basis of profitable growth, increasing value for our stakeholders and expanding opportunities for development and career growth for our employees.

Over the last two decades, Ben & Jerry's has been directly confronted about their failure to live up to mission, as they continue promoting themselves as a 'green' business while utilizing extremely harmful and polluting agriculture methods.

Ben & Jerry's — One of the Greatest Greenwash Scams in the Business 

Chances are, if you like ice cream, you probably like Ben & Jerry's — not just because of their "euphoric concoctions" but also because of their emphasis on sustainability and ecofriendly practices, and their support for labeling genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Too bad it's all a façade.

The company recently got a slew of negative press3,4,5,6 when independent testing by the Organic Consumer's Association (OCA) discovered traces of glyphosate in 10 out of 11 Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavors.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg, and a minor issue in the big scheme of things. As noted by Michael Colby, former editor of Food & Water Journal and co-founder of Regeneration Vermont, a nonprofit advocacy group dedicated to bringing sustainable, regenerative agriculture back to Vermont:7

"It was 20 years ago last month that Food & Water published our report on Vermont's atrazine addiction, a toxic herbicide that is banned in Europe but continues to be used in abundance on Vermont's 92,000 acres of GMO-derived feed corn — all for dairy cows. We used the report to get the attention of Ben & Jerry's, and it worked.

We thought when the doors swung open to the offices of Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield themselves that we'd be able to make the case to them. Our plea at the time was the same as it is today: Ben & Jerry's should practice what it preaches and help transition its farmers to organic production. If they took the lead, we argued, the entire state could begin a transition away from the kind of industrial, commodity-based dairy system that is wreaking so much havoc with Vermont's agriculture …

We thought the obvious imbalance — and even direct, outright hypocrisy — between what Ben & Jerry's was doing and what they were saying would be enough to get these do-good hippies to do the right thing. We were using logic. Because, certainly, the corporation that wanted to "save the planet" and "put the planet before profits" would want to stop being one of the state's top polluters, right?

Wrong. We were told at the time, by Ben himself, after a year's worth of meetings and even an offer of a job to me 'to work with us instead of going after us,' that Ben & Jerry's was not going to transition to organic because it wouldn't allow them to 'maximize profits.'"

Happy, Healthy Cows? Not So Much

Yes, for those of you who might have been misled to think otherwise, Ben & Jerry's is actually supporting one of the greatest polluters in the world — factory dairy farming. And the reality of these factory farms is far from the rosy picture put forth in this recent "Caring Dairy" campaign video, in which they highlight the idea that Ben & Jerry gets its milk from some 300 "family operated" dairy farms in the U.S. and Europe.

"Healthy land, dedicated farmers, smart energy and a strong local community … put them together and you got some happy cows," the video says. Wrong. While the video features cows happily skipping through a meadow, CAFO cows are anything but happy and healthy, and CAFOs are where Ben & Jerry's gets their milk — not family operated farms that pasture their cows and raise them on grass, as nature intended.

According to Cornell University researchers, the annual mortality rate in CAFO herds is now over 10 percent. In 2002, the mortality rate was less than 4 percent. As noted by Will Allen, owner of Cedar Circle Farm, a regenerative farm in Vermont, "Something's seriously wrong in the dairy barn."8