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For Ben & Jerry's, Small Hint of Herbicide Sparks Big Headache

WATERBURY — For Ben & Jerry's, it's the kind of scoop that gives an ice cream maker indigestion.

The Organic Consumers Association has taken to the internet to announce it found traces of glyphosate — the active ingredient in the weed-control herbicide Roundup — in 10 of 11 samples of the Vermont company's products.

Tests of pint containers of various flavors showed as little as no detectable findings in Cherry Garcia to as much as 1.74 parts per billion in Chocolate Fudge Brownie, according to the Health Research Institute that conducted the study. To put that in perspective, an average child would have to eat 145,000 eight-ounce servings a day — or an adult would have to consume 290,000 similar portions — to exceed the amount of glyphosate allowed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the testing outfit said.

But when the New York Times broke the news Tuesday in an article headlined "Traces of Controversial Herbicide Are Found in Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream," it was clear even the smallest hint could spark a big headache.

"Not having seen all the testing and methodology, it's difficult to make any clear comments on it," said Rob Michalak, the ice cream company's global director of social mission. "Given there's a report out there, we definitely want to understand it. But we know when organizations hope to raise an issue, oftentimes bringing in Ben & Jerry's can help draw attention."

Indeed, the study found hints of glyphosate's byproduct, aminomethylphosphonic acid, in other national brands including Whole Foods Market's 365, but that fact isn't trumpeted on the Organic Consumers Association's website.

The detection of glyphosate — which all sides believe originated not in the ice cream but instead in nut and grain additions such as peanut butter and cookie dough — is fueling a debate about food safety. Many government regulators as well as Monsanto, manufacturer of Roundup, believe very low levels of the compound aren't harmful to humans.

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