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Consumer Group Alleges Ben & Jerry's Green Image Not Met By Reality

A blue and green painted van with cows on it.
The 'Cowmobile' is one example of Ben & Jerry's marketing. The Organic Consumers Association says in a lawsuit that the company misleads consumers that its products are made in a way that protects the environment.

A national consumer group says Vermont-based Ben & Jerry’s Homemade, Inc. uses deceptive labeling and marketing to mislead the public about its commitment to a clean environment and humane farming practices.

A lawsuit filed by the Organic Consumers Association claims that Ben & Jerry’s cultivates an image that its products are made in an environmentally friendly way, but that the reality is far different.

The association says traces of the herbicide glyphosate have been found in some of Ben & Jerry's ice cream products, and the suit alleges that farms that supply Ben & Jerry's with milk are polluting Lake Champlain and Lake Carmi in Franklin County.

A Ben & Jerry’s spokeswoman said the company does not comment on lawsuits. Ben & Jerry's is owned by Unilever, a multinational consumer goods company. The company spent $9 billion on advertising last year, according to Ronnie Cummins, the international director for the Organic Consumers Association.

"A significant portion of that was spent to the false perception that Ben & Jerry's is committed to a clean environment and high animal welfare standards," Cummins said in a prepared statement. 

Michael Colby is an activist with Regeneration Vermont who worked with the consumer group on the case. He said Ben & Jerry’s does have a “Caring Dairy" program — under that program, a third party verifies that farms meet certain standards for animal care, environmental protection and fair labor practices.

But Colby said the company’s milk supplier, the St. Albans Cooperative Creamery, does not segregate milk from “Caring Dairy” farms and that less than 25 percent of the co-op's farms met the "Caring Dairy" standards.

“They talk about ‘Caring Dairy’ and how they’re involved in initiatives to reduce pesticides at these dairies and provide 800 numbers for migrant workers if they have complaints,” Colby said. “But that milk that comes from these farms is not exclusively for Ben & Jerry’s. It’s just pooled with 360 other farms, and Ben & Jerry’s just pulls from that cheap commodity supply.”

Colby said Ben & Jerry’s could do more to help transform agriculture in the state.

“Ben & Jerry’s needs to step and do the right thing and transition away from these dangerous and threatening industrial farming practices and lead Vermont back to where it should be, which is a green state that practices what it preaches and takes care of our land, labor and our livestock,” Colby said.

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