It's nice to be able to feel good about eating ice cream -- particularly Ben & Jerry's ice cream. Last year, the Vermont-based company transitioned all plant-based ingredients in its line of products to non-GMO sources, and now the company wants to help other food companies to do the same.
Ben & Jerry's has long put positive social and environmental impact first in its business model. As a Certified Benefit Corporation, this sort of impact is crucial for Ben & Jerry's. Its newest battle has been ensuring that its products are entirely non-GMO, a mission that has turned the company into an ally for all companies seeking to work with non-GMO ingredients due to its encouragement of non-GMO supply chains.
Why Are Non-GMO Supply Chains Important?
Building non-GMO supply chains is an essential way of ensuring that there is a choice of affordable, non-GMO foods on the market. With more and more companies committing to non-GMO products, the current supply chain is having a hard time keeping up. A unique supply chain must be supported, and Ben & Jerry's is in a position to encourage its development.
Andy Barker, the social mission strategy and policy manager for Ben & Jerry’s, told Forbes that currently, the principal difficulties in the move to non-GMO products are due to existing logistics. When creating a non-GMO supply chain, not only must non-GMO sources for different ingredients be developed, but so must infrastructure in order to segregate GMO and non-GMO products. With the demand of big companies like Ben & Jerry's, these tools can become a reality.
How Did Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Go Non-GMO?
For Ben & Jerry’s, the decision to opt for entirely non-GMO ingredients wasn’t a simple one to implement. Ben & Jerry’s ice creams and sorbets include dozens of individual ingredients, including marshmallow, chocolate, and caramel, all of which frequently include GMO foods when sourced from traditional outlets. Corn syrup in marshmallows had to come from non-GMO corn, and sugar must come from sugar cane as opposed to GMO sugar beets.
The company began the process of transition in 2012, and by 2014, Ben & Jerry's had reached 94.96 percent non-GMO plant-based ingredients, according to the 2014 sustainability report, and all ice cream flavors sold in pints, quarts, mini-cups, and Scoop Shops are made with non-GMO ingredients today. The only current exceptions are the ice cream bars, but this transition is already a huge start.
“We’ve had historical support for a consumer’s right to know,” says Rob Michelak, the company’s global director of social mission. “With GMO labeling legislation being considered in many states, our home state of Vermont included, we thought this was a time to speak out.”
The Next Step: Broadening Non-GMO Supply Chains
Ben & Jerry's has now teamed up with Green America to help develop non-GMO supply chains throughout the country, but it's not going to be easy.
The more difficult aspect of Ben & Jerry's own transition has been in sourcing dairy. While Ben & Jerry’s sources local Vermont dairy from family farms, much of the dairy is not certified organic, and thus it is nearly certain that the cows are fed a GMO-based diet.
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“We are actively seeking cost-effective options for farmers within our supply chain to convert to non-GMO animal feed," reports the company web page.
While Ben & Jerry's continue's to work on developing its own non-GMO products, it is also helping other companies to progress into non-GMO territory. By teaming up with Green America, Ben & Jerry's is helping with the development of the organization's Center for Sustainability Solutions, a center whose mission statement is to "shift whole industries and sectors towards social, environmental and economic sustainability."
Together, Ben & Jerry's and Green America will be helping make these supply chains -- both for the continued development of Ben & Jerry's own non-GMO initiative and for other companies -- a reality.
Until federal regulations are set, however, developing these infrastructures will be an uphill battle. The company based its non-GMO standards on both the mandatory declaration requirements of European regulations and the GMO labeling laws in Vermont, but national non-GMO regulations will help to continue to create the necessary infrastructures and hold companies to a standard.
This is a start, but there's still a long way to go. Companies like Ben & Jerry's but also Chipotle, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe's, have committed to non-GMO ingredients, thus demanding the development of more non-GMO product lines. As more companies begin to demand non-GMO ingredients, there will be more incentive to develop these infrastructures, and, that means more non-GMO options for everyone.
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Ben & Jerry's image via Shuttesrtock