After European samples of Ben & Jerry's ice cream were found to contain traces of the herbicide glyphosate in a recent survey, the company announced last week that it would be cutting all glyphosate-tainted ingredients from its products and launching an organic line next year, which the company expects to make up 5 percent of its U.S. product sales.
This follows the July discovery of similar levels of glyphosate in the company’s American ice creams, found by the Organic Consumers Association. At the time, the OCA called for Ben & Jerry's to stop labeling its ice creams as “natural” until all traces of glyphosate had been eradicated and demanded that the company “announce it will be immediately be transitioning to 100 percent organic.”
The European survey, conducted by Health Research Institute laboratories, found traces of the weedkiller in 13 of the 14 tubs of ice cream sampled in the UK, France, Germany, and the Netherlands. All of the tubs in the UK contained between 1 and 1.23 parts per billion of the herbicide, reports the Guardian.
While this amount is well within the allowable U.S. and European standards, even low levels of glyphosate have been linked to health risks. A 2012 study in the journal Archives of Toxicology found that glyphosate was toxic to human DNA even in low doses, and a study published this year in Scientific Reports found that low levels of glyphosate caused non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in rats.
A statement from Ben & Jerry's noted that while glyphosate is nearly omnipresent in our food system, thus rendering the company “disappointed, but not totally surprised” at the discovery, company spokesperson Laura Peterson told the Guardian that “simply saying trace levels are in everything is not a strategy.”
Peterson went on to outline the company’s plan for removing the chemical from its supply chain, which includes phasing out ingredients made with crops chemically dried using glyphosate by 2020. Such crops include wheat, barley, peanuts, and oats.
As opposed to crops that are genetically engineered to resist glyphosate and are thus treated with the chemical as an herbicide, non-GMO varieties of wheat, barley, peanuts, and oats are treated with glyphosate in order to dry them out and prepare them for processing. As Ben & Jerry's does not use GMO ingredients, this is the most likely way in which the herbicide entered the company's supply chain.
“We understand and share our fans' desire to limit the amount of chemicals in the food system,” explains the company, “which is why this step is important. In addition, we intend to advocate for policies that would end use of glyphosate as a chemical drying agent.”
Glyphosate, which is sold under the brand name Roundup by Monsanto, is the most widely applied herbicide around the world. Traces of the chemical have notably been detected in Quaker Oats which, like Ben & Jerry's ice cream, are not made with GMO ingredients.
In 2015, the World Health Organization dubbed glyphosate a probable human carcinogen.
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