Vermont dairy is synonymous with two things: cows grazing on green pastures and Ben & Jerry’s. The iconic ice cream brand was started in Burlington, Vermont, in 1978 and to this day claims to be as devoted to stewardship to the environment as it is to creating new ice cream flavors.
Their environmentally friendly image has helped propel the brand into one of Unilever’s, their corporate owner, rising stars.
With revenues close to $600 million a year and growing,1 they’re perfectly poised to become a champion to the environment, and easily hold enough weight to prompt real change with the “value-led decisions” they say drive their business.
Unfortunately, like so many other corporate giants, Ben & Jerry’s is actively supporting industrial dairy, an industry so damaging to the environment, the cows and the farmers that the system is destined to collapse, sooner or later.
What’s unknown is how much suffering and environmental destruction will occur before that day comes — and whether Ben & Jerry’s will decide to continue its greedy corporate crusade or turn the tide for positive change.
Ben & Jerry’s Supports Sweatshop Dairy
While Ben & Jerry’s has clung fast to its Vermont heritage, the state is no longer home to an abundance of happily grazing cows producing rich, creamy milk with which to make their premium ice cream — although this is by design, not circumstance. Regeneration Vermont reported:2
“ … [A] vast majority of Vermont’s agriculture — more than 70 percent — is all about commodity-driven, nonorganic dairy production, where GMO crops dominate, cows are on concrete, gorged and fully dosed with an array of pharmaceuticals, fields are bathed in toxic pesticides, and our waterways are declared impaired as a result of the nitrogen and phosphorus-rich farm runoff.
… [T]hese aren’t the quaint little family farms of yesteryear, the ones still dancing in your head when you imagine Vermont agriculture.
It’s not that these farms don’t exist, it’s that they’re getting pinched out by the dominant industrial model, a model that is coddled by Vermont’s political and regulatory elite and subservient to Vermont’s two giant nonorganic-dairy corporations: Ben & Jerry’s and Cabot Creamery.”
As concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) became the norm, farmers were forced to grow their herds and increase milk production using artificial (drug and hormone-based) methods, among others (like feeding cows an unnatural amount of grain-based food, 24-hour confinement and increased number of milkings per day).
The price of milk is now so low that an average-sized dairy farm in Vermont (about 125 cows) is operating at a loss of $100,000 a year.
It’s gotten so bad that farmers in Vermont only get about $14 for 11.6 gallons of milk, which cost about $22 to produce. So, they’re essentially paying about $8 to sell 11.6 gallons of milk.3 It’s economic exploitation, Regeneration Vermont noted:4
“If sweatshop laws were in play for Vermont’s dairy economy, the kingpins and benefactors of the exploitation, Ben & Jerry’s and Cabot Creamery, would be summarily convicted. They are choosing to economically strangle their suppliers, the farmers, by paying only the lowest of commodity prices.
And, worse, they are refusing to take the lead in transitioning their farmers — representing 80 percent of Vermont’s dairy farms — toward the obvious organic, regenerative solution.”
The Organic Consumers Association has created a petition to encourage Ben & Jerry’s to stop defrauding consumers and convert to organic. Please join your support with this important initiative by signing the petition below. After you sign the petition, please call Ben & Jerry’s (802-846-1500) and ask the company to go organic.
Click here to sign the petition
Record Milk Glut of 2016
In 2016, the industrial dairy industry dumped 43 million gallons of milk due to a massive milk glut. The glut was the result of a 2014 spike in milk prices, which encouraged many dairy farmers to add more milk cows to their farms.
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data showed that dairy cows increased by 40,000 in 2016, with a 1.4 percent increase in production per cow.
With too much milk and nowhere to sell it, prices tanked. Milk prices declined 22 percent in recent months to $16.39 per 100 pounds — a price so low some farmers could no longer afford to even transport it to the market.5
The milk glut isn’t only affecting the U.S., either. It’s been felt globally, which means milk producers can’t export their surplus milk. What’s a dairy farmer to do with a surplus of milk? Dump it — on fields, into animal feed or added to manure lagoons.