Why Consumers Need to Force Ben & Jerry's to Go Organic
The most important thing we can do today as conscious consumers, farmers and food workers is to regenerate public health, the environment and climate stability. We can do this most readily by moving away from industrial, GMO and factory-farm food toward an organic, pasture-based, soil-regenerative, humane, carbon-sequestering and climate-friendly agriculture system.
What's standing in the way of this life-or-death transformation? Rampant greenwashing. The proliferation of $90 billion worth of fraudulently labeled or advertised "natural" and "socially responsible" food products in the U.S. confuses even the most well-intentioned of consumers and lures them away from purchasing genuine organic or grass-fed products.
Perhaps no company personifies greenwashing more than Vermont-based Ben & Jerry's. Ben & Jerry's history—a start-up launched by two affable hippies, from a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont—is legendary. Despite selling out to Unilever in April 2000, the brand's handlers have preserved its quirky, homespun image and masterfully convinced consumers that Ben & Jerry's has never strayed from its mission: "to make the world a better place."
As the New York Times reported, the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) recently sent samples of Ben and Jerry's top-selling ice cream brands to an independent testing lab for analysis. Ten out of 11 samples tested positive for Roundup (glyphosate and AMPA) herbicide contamination
So much for making the world a better place.
Compare the Ben & Jerry's test results with the results of our testing of organic brands, brands that use organic milk from farms that are actually making the world a better place. Three out of four nationally distributed organic ice cream brands tested negative for Roundup contamination (only Whole Foods "365" brand was contaminated).
A History of Stalling on Organic
Twenty-four years ago, anti-GMO food activists, including the Pure Food Campaign (OCA's predecessor), successfully pressured Ben & Jerry's and a number of other leading dairies to prohibit the use of America's first genetically engineered food product, Monsanto's recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH). Now marketed by drug giant Elanco (Eli Lilly), rBGH is linked to increased risk of human breast and colon cancer, a greater use of antibiotics in animal feed, and damage to cow's health.
Several groups, including the OCA, subsequently asked Ben & Jerry's to move beyond just prohibiting their dairy cows from being injected with rBGH. We asked them to go 100 percent organic, which would have required the company to ban its dairy suppliers from feeding their cows GMO corn and grain, and to use only organic ingredients in its flavors. But even before Ben & Jerry's was bought out by Unilever, company founder Ben Cohen told Vermont Food activist Michael Colby "that Ben & Jerry's was not going to transition to organic because it wouldn't allow them to 'maximize profits.' "
Since 1994, Ben & Jerry's, the $1.5-billion-per-year flagship brand of the second-largest multinational food corporation in the world, Unilever (annual sales $60 billion), has cashed in big time on its "rBGH-free" policy, advertising its brand, over and over again, as "all natural," "GMO-free," "fair trade," "climate-just" and "socially responsible."
Despite repeated calls from consumer groups to stop advertising its ice-cream as "natural" or "all natural," given that it is derived from cows raised almost exclusively on GMO corn forage (grown with Roundup Ready, neonic- and BT-spliced seeds), laced with non-organic ingredients, sprayed heavily with Roundup and other pesticides, Ben & Jerry's continues to greenwash and lie. The company recently described its mission as:
To make, distribute and sell the finest quality and euphoric concoctions with a continued commitment to incorporating wholesome, ingredients and promoting business practices that respect the Earth and the Environment.
After more than a decade of dodging consumer, farmer, animal welfare, environmental and farmworker pleas to stop greenwashing and to equitably source its milk from cows grazing on organic pasture, Ben & Jerry's continues to stall. Instead, Ben & Jerry's sources its milk from St. Alban's, a 400-farmer dairy co-op that is increasingly dominated by large factory farm-type dairy operations. To feed their cows, farmers routinely spray tons of pesticides, including Roundup, atrazine and metolachlor, on fields of GMO corn grown from neonic-coated and BT toxin seeds. They also apply tons of soil-killing, climate-disrupting nitrogen fertilizers that pollute Vermont's streams, rivers and lakes.
Petitions and protests calling for Ben & Jerry's to stop its suppliers from exploiting farmworkers, confining dairy cows and driving small dairy farmers into bankruptcy, have produced nothing more than vague promises of "respecting the Earth" and supporting rural economic justice.
Enough is enough. Vermont and national public interest organizations have lost our patience. It's time for Unilever and Ben & Jerry's to move beyond greenwashing to decisive action. It's time for Ben & Jerry's to announce it will immediately begin transitioning to 100-percent organic. Otherwise conscious consumers have no choice but to launch a national and, if necessary, international protest campaign and boycott.
Vermont Activists Demand Major Changes From Ben and Jerry's
Regeneration Vermont, a broad-based coalition of consumers and farmers, has repeatedly asked Ben & Jerry's and Unilever to sign a six-point pledge to go 100-percent organic over a three-year transition period. Here's what the groups want Ben & Jerry's to pledge:
1. A transition away from GMO crops and toxic pesticides/fertilizers and toward regenerative organic agricultural methods.
2. Fair wages for farmers, including premiums based on regeneration benchmarks and assistance in the transition toward regenerative methods.
3. Economic justice for farm workers, fair and livable wages, decent housing and social and cultural dignity.
4. Adoption of climate remediation techniques, beginning with an emphasis on healthy soils and cover-cropping for carbon sequestration and erosion control.
5. Humane treatment of farm animals, a phase-out of confinement dairies and a transition back to grassland grazing and grass-based feed for ruminants.
6. Cleaning up and protecting our watersheds, streams, rivers, ponds, lakes and groundwater.
A Trail of Toxins
Recent reports published by Regeneration Vermont reveal that Ben & Jerry's suppliers, and Vermont and U.S. (non-organic) dairy farmers in general, have gone backward, rather than forward over the past 15 years in terms of environmental sustainability, food safety, nutrition, greenhouse gas pollution, water pollution, animal welfare, farmworker justice and preservation of family farms.
Chemical fertilizer use has also almost doubled in Vermont since GMOs began to dominate the market 15 years ago.
So much for Monsanto's claims that GMO crops would reduce the use of toxic pesticides and water-polluting and climate-destabilizing nitrogen fertilizers. Not to mention Ben & Jerry's claim that it is "non-GMO" and "environmentally responsible."
Among Regeneration Vermont's finding are the following:
- An astounding 97 percent of Vermont's field corn, the major component of a non-organic dairy cow's diet, is now GMO (Roundup Ready, Bt-spliced, neonic seeds). This is the highest percentage of any state in the U.S.
- Herbicide use has increased more than 100 percent-per-acre in Vermont since Monsanto's GMO corn came on the market, with recent heavy use of atrazine, metholachlor, simazine, pendimethlin, glyphosate (Roundup), acetochlor, dicamba and alachlor.
As Regeneration Vermont states in its report:
Regulators have determined that five of these eight most used herbicides [in Vermont] are possible or probable human carcinogens, the remaining three are suspected carcinogens. Seven of the eight are possible or probable endocrine disruptors (the other one is a suspected to be an endocrine disruptor). All eight have been determined by regulators and academics to cause birth or developmental defects and contaminate drinking water and public waters with dangerous chemicals that have long-term persistence. Atrazine, simazine, acetachlor and alachlor have lost their registration in the EU, and are effectively banned.
The Threat of #DirtyDairy and Factory Farms
Millions of health-minded Americans, especially parents of young children, now understand that cheap, non-organic, genetically engineered, industrial and factory farm food is hazardous. Not only does chemical- and energy-intensive factory farming destroy the environment, destabilize the climate, impoverish rural communities, exploit farm workers, inflict unnecessary cruelty on farm animals, and contaminate the water supply, but the end product itself is inevitably contaminated and inferior in nutritional terms, in this case in comparison to 100 percent grass-fed and organic milk and dairy.
America's green-minded consumers understand that industrial agriculture poses a terminal threat to the environment and climate stability. A highly conscious and passionate segment of the population is beginning to understand that converting to non-chemical, non-genetically engineered, energy-efficient, carbon-sequestering organic/regenerative farming practices and drastically reducing food miles by re-localizing the food chain, are essential preconditions for stabilizing our out-of-control climate and preparing our families and communities for future energy and resource shortages.
A critical mass of the global grassroots—consumers, farmers, activists—now realize that unless we act quickly, global warming and climate chaos will soon severely disrupt industrial agriculture and long-distance food transportation, leading to massive crop failures, food shortages, famine, war and pestilence. Even more alarming, accelerating levels of greenhouse gases will soon push global warming to a tipping point that will melt the polar icecaps and possibly unleash a cataclysmic discharge of climate-destabilizing methane, now sequestered in the fragile arctic tundra.
Thanks to this growing consumer awareness—and four decades of hard work—the organic community has built up a $50-billion "certified organic" and $5-billion 100 percent grass-fed food and products sector that prohibits the use of genetic engineering and pesticides. The rapidly expanding organic products sector now constitutes more than 5 percent of total retail grocery sales (and 15 percent of fruits and vegetables), with an annual growth rate of 10-15 percent. Even taking into account a sluggish economy, the organic market, if we eliminate greenwashing and labeling fraud, could conceivably reach a "tipping point" of 20 percent of grocery sales in 2020.
The Myth of "Natural" Remains a Threat
As impressive as this $55 billion Organic and Grass-fed Alternative is, it remains overshadowed by an additional $90 billion in annual spending by consumers on products, such as B&J's, fraudulently marketed as "natural," "gmo-free," "free range" or "sustainable."
Consumer surveys indicate that the overwhelming majority of Americans believe that "natural" products are "almost organic," yet at the same time, much cheaper; the majority believes that "all natural" actually means that it is better than organics. Ben & Jerry's is not the only brand greenwashing its products and impeding the growth of organic, 100 percent grass-fed and regenerative foods. But it is certainly among the most shameless.
In fact, all these "natural," "all-natural" and "sustainable" products are neither backed up by rules and regulations, nor a third-party certifier. Most "natural" or conventional products—whether produce, dairy or canned or frozen goods—are produced on large industrial farms or in processing plants that are highly polluting, chemical-intensive and energy-intensive.
Perhaps fraudulently labeled "natural" foods such as Ben & Jerry's wouldn't matter so much if we were living in normal times, with a relatively healthy population, environment and climate. Conventional products sold as "natural" or "nearly organic" would be just one more example of chicanery or unethical business practices.
But we are not living in normal times.
Demanding that fake natural brands and producers, such as Ben & Jerry's, make the transition to organic is a matter of life or death. We're tired of pleading and politely asking Ben & Jerry's, Unilever and other greenwashers to please change their ways. It's time to step up the pressure. Please join the growing boycott of Ben & Jerry's ice-cream by signing this petition and by volunteering to join a local campaign team in your local community.
Ronnie Cummins is the international director of the Organic Consumers Association.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Mark Hertsgaard
What follows are not candidate endorsements. Rather, this nonpartisan guide aims to inform voters' choices, help journalists decide what races to follow, and explore what the 2020 elections could portend for climate action in the United States in 2021 and beyond.
Will the White House Turn Green?<p>Whether the White House changes hands is the most important climate question of the 2020 elections. President Donald Trump rejects climate science, is withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement, and has accelerated fossil fuel development. His climate policy seems to be, as he tweeted in January when rejecting a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposal to protect New York City from storm surges, "Get your mops and buckets ready."</p><p>Joe Biden, who started the 2020 campaign with a climate position so weak that activists gave it an "F," called Trump a "climate arsonist" during California's recent wildfires. Biden backs a $2 trillion plan to create millions of jobs while slashing emissions—a Green New Deal in all but name. Equally striking, his running mate, California Senator Kamala Harris, has endorsed phasing out fossil fuel production—a politically explosive scientific imperative.</p><p>The race will be decided in a handful of battleground states, five of which already face grave climate dangers: Florida (hurricanes and sea-level rise), North Carolina (ditto), Texas (storms and drought), Michigan (floods), and Arizona (heat waves and drought). <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/visualizations-data/ycom-us/" target="_blank">Public concern is rising</a> in these states, but will that concern translate into votes?</p>
Will Democrats Flip the Senate, and by Enough to Pass a Green New Deal?<p>With Democrats all but certain to maintain their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate will determine whether a potential Biden administration can actually deliver climate progress. Democrats need to pick up three seats to flip the Senate if Biden wins, four if he doesn't. But since aggressive climate policy is shunned by some Democrats, notably Joe Manchin of coal-dependent West Virginia, Democrats probably need to gain five or six Senate seats to pass a Green New Deal.</p><p>Environmentalists, including the League of Conservation Voters, are targeting six Republicans who polls suggest are vulnerable.</p><ul><li>Steve Daines of Montana, who denies climate science</li><li>Martha McSally of Arizona</li><li>Thom Tillis of North Carolina</li><li>Susan Collins of Maine</li><li>Joni Ernst of Iowa (bankrolled by Charles Koch)</li><li>John James of Michigan (also a Koch beneficiary)</li></ul><p>Republican Senators are even at risk in conservative Kansas and Alaska. In both states, the Democratic candidates are physicians—not a bad credential amid a pandemic—who support climate action. In Kansas, Barbara Bollier faces an incumbent funded by Charles Koch. In Alaska, Al Gross urges a transition away from oil, though his openness to limited drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve dims his appeal to green groups. He faces incumbent Republican Dan Sullivan, who receives an 8 percent lifetime voting record from the League of Conservation Voters.</p>
Will Local and State Races Advance Climate Progress?<h4>THE CLIMATE HAWKS</h4><p>Under Democratic and Republican leadership alike, Washington has long been a graveyard for strong climate action. But governors can boost or block renewable energy; the Vermont and New Hampshire races are worth watching. Attorneys general can sue fossil fuel companies for lying about climate change; climate hawks are running for the top law enforcement seats in Montana and North Carolina. State legislatures can accelerate or delay climate progress, as the new Democratic majorities in Virginia have shown. Here, races to watch include Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Colorado.</p><h4>THE CLIMATE POLICY MAKERS</h4><p>Perhaps the most powerful, and most overlooked, climate policy makers are public utility commissions. They control whether pipelines and other energy infrastructure gets built; they regulate whether electric utilities expand solar and energy efficiency or stick with the carbon-heavy status quo. Regulatory capture and outright corruption are not uncommon.</p><p>A prime example is Arizona, where a former two-term commissioner known as the godfather of solar in the state is seeking a comeback. Bill Mundell argues that since Arizona law permits utilities to contribute to commissioners' electoral campaigns, the companies can buy their own regulators. Which may explain why super-sunny Arizona has so little installed solar capacity.</p><p>In South Dakota, Remi Bald Eagle, a Native American U.S. Army veteran, seeks a seat on the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, which rules on the Standing Rock oil pipeline. And in what <em>HuffPost</em> called "the most important environmental race in the country," Democrat Chrysta Castaneda, who favors phasing out oil production, is running for the Texas Railroad Commission, which despite its name decides what oil, gas, and electric companies in America's leading petro-state can build.</p>
Will the Influencers Usher in a Green New Era?<h4>THE UNCOUNTED</h4><p>The story that goes largely under-reported in every U.S. election is how few Americans vote. In 2016, some 90 million, <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2018/08/09/an-examination-of-the-2016-electorate-based-on-validated-voters/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly four out of every 10 eligible voters</a>, did not cast a ballot. Attorney Nathaniel Stinnett claims that 10 million of these nonvoters nevertheless identify as environmentalists: They support green policies, even donate to activist groups; they just don't vote. Stinnett's <a href="https://www.environmentalvoter.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Environmental Voter Project</a> works to awaken this sleeping giant.</p><h4>THE SUNRISE MOVEMENT</h4><p>Meanwhile, the young climate activists of the <a href="http://www.sunrisemovement.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sunrise Movement</a> are already winning elections with an unabashedly Green New Deal message. More than any other group, Sunrise pushed the Green New Deal into the national political conversation, helping Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey draft the eponymous congressional resolution. In 2020, Sunrise has helped Green New Deal champions defeat centrists in Democratic primaries, with Markey dealing Representative Joe Kennedy Jr. the first defeat a Kennedy has ever suffered in a Massachusetts election. But can Sunrise also be successful against Republicans in the general elections this fall?</p><h4>THE STARPOWER</h4><p>And an intriguing wild card: celebrity firepower, grassroots activism, and big-bucks marketing have converged behind a campaign to get Latina mothers to vote climate in 2020. Latinos have long been the U.S. demographic most concerned about climate change. Now, <a href="https://votelikeamadre.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Vote Like A Madre</a> aims to get 5 million Latina mothers in Florida, Texas, and Arizona to the polls. Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayak, and Lin-Manuel Miranda are urging mothers to make a "pinky promise" to vote for their kids' climate future in November. Turning out even a quarter of those 5 million voters, though no easy task, could swing the results in three states Trump must win to remain president, which brings us back to the first category, "Will the White House Turn Green?"</p>
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By Tony Carnie
South Africa is home to around 1,300 of the world's roughly 7,100 remaining cheetahs. It's also the only country in the world with significant cheetah population growth, thanks largely to a nongovernmental conservation project that depends on careful and intensive human management of small, fenced-in cheetah populations. Because most of the reserves are privately funded and properly fenced, the animals benefit from higher levels of security than in the increasingly thinly funded state reserves.
Vincent van der Merwe at a cheetah translocation. Endangered Wildlife Trust
Under Pressure<p>Cheetah populations elsewhere in Southern Africa have not prospered over the past 50 years. In Zimbabwe, cheetah numbers have crashed from 1,500 in 1975, to just 170 today. Botswana's cheetah population has held steady at around 1,500 over the same period, but illegal capture for captive breeding and conflicts with farmers and the growing human population are increasing. In Namibia, there were an estimated 3,000 cheetah in in 1975; roughly 1,400 remain today.</p><p>In contrast, South Africa's cheetah numbers have grown from about 500 in 1975 to nearly 1,300 today. Van der Merwe, who is also a Ph.D. student at the University of Cape Town's Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa (iCWild), says he's confident that South Africa will soon overtake Namibia and Botswana, largely because the majority of South African cheetahs are protected and managed behind fences, whereas most of the animals in the neighboring countries remain more vulnerable on mainly unfenced lands.</p><p>Wildlife researchers Florian Weise and colleagues have reported that private stock owners in Namibia still trap cheetahs mainly for translocation, but there are few public or private reserves large enough to contain them. Weise says that conservation efforts need to focus on improving tolerance toward cheetahs in commercial livestock and game farming areas to reduce indiscriminate trapping.</p><p>Van der Merwe says fences can be both a blessing and a curse. While these barriers prevent cheetahs and other wild animals from migrating naturally to breed and feed, they also protect cheetahs from the growing tide of threats from humanity and agriculture.</p><p>To simulate natural dispersion patterns that guard against inbreeding, the trust helps landowners swap their animals with other cheetah reserves elsewhere in the country. The South African metapopulation project has been so successful in boosting numbers that the trust is having to look beyond national boundaries to secure new translocation areas in Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique.</p><p>Cheetah translocations have been going on in South Africa since the mid-1960s, when the first unsuccessful attempts were made to move scores of these animals from Namibia. These relocations were mostly unsuccessful.</p>
Charli de Vos uses a VHF antenna to locate cheetahs in Phinda Game Reserve. Tony Carnie for Mongabay
Swinging for the Fences<p>But other wildlife conservation leaders have a different perspective on cheetah conservation strategy.</p><p>Gus Mills, a senior carnivore researcher retired in 2006 from SANParks, the agency that manages South Africa's national parks, after a career of more than 30 years in Kalahari and Kruger national parks. He says the focus should be on quality of living spaces rather than the quantity of cheetahs.</p><p>Mills, who was the founder of the Endangered Wildlife Trust's Carnivore Conservation Group in 1995, and who also spent six years after retirement studying cheetahs in the Kalahari, says it's more important to properly protect and, where possible, expand the size of existing protected areas.</p><p>He also advocates a triage approach to cheetah conservation, in which scarce funds and resources are focused on protecting cheetahs in formally protected areas, rather than diluting scarce resources in an attempt to try and save every single remaining cheetah population.</p><p>"People have an obsession with numbers. But I believe that it is more important to protect large landscape and habitats properly," Mills said.</p><p>He suggests that cheetahs enclosed within small reserves live in artificial conditions: "It's almost like glorified farming."</p><p>"In the long run we have to focus on consolidating formally protected areas," he added. "Africa's human population will double by 2050, so cheetah populations in unfenced areas will become unsustainable if they are eating people's livestock."</p>
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