Nothing beats an ice cream cone on a hot summer’s day, but if Ben & Jerry’s is your preferred brand of indulgence, your scoop may come with a tiny serving of herbicide. As Stephanie Strom reports for the New York Times, the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) says it has found traces of glyphosate—the main ingredient of the pesticide Roundup—in 10 out of 11 Ben & Jerry’s samples.
Before you bombard the brand with angry messages on Twitter, let’s get a few things out of the way. The levels of glyphosate found in the ice cream are very, very low—far lower than the amount deemed safe to consume by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Chocolate Fudgie Brownie, the flavor that contained the highest amounts of the chemical, was found to have 1.74 parts per billion of glyphosate, and 0.91 parts per billion of aminomethylphosphonic acid, glyphosate’s byproduct. To reach the EPA’s limit, an adult would have to eat 290,000 servings of Chocolate Fudgie Brownie per day.
John Fagan, chief executive of the Health Research Institute Laboratories, which tested the ice cream for the OCA, tells Strom that “the levels found in Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream would seem totally irrelevant” based on the government threshold.
The amounts of glyphosate in the other nine affected flavors—Peanut Butter Cookie, Peanut Butter Cup, The Tonight Dough, Phish Food, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Americone Dream, Half Baked, and Vanilla—were even less significant.
Whether or not trace amounts of glyphosate are harmful to humans is a subject of intense debate. In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the herbicide is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” But the WHO’s conclusion has come under scrutiny; last month, Kate Kelland of Reuters reported that the epidemiologist leading the review did not disclose unpublished scientific data that found no link between glyphosate and cancer.
According to research published this year in the journal Scientific Reports, rats that were given very low doses of glyphosate each day began to show signs of fatty liver disease after three months. But these findings have also been called into question because researchers did not disclose the age of the rats and relied on a breed that is prone to tumors.
The OCA, on the other hand, views the study differently. According to a statement from the association, the results suggest “that there is no 'safe' level of glyphosate despite otherwise indicated by regulatory agencies.” Ronnie Cummins, founder and international director of the OCA, tells Strom, “[n]ot everyone agrees with the acceptable levels governments have set.”
The FDA does conduct annual tests to monitor pesticide levels in food, but as Strom reports, glyphosate is not currently included in this program. Yet tests completed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency suggest that it is found at low levels in a variety of foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables, beans and instant cereals.
The OCA’s findings surely come as a blow to Ben & Jerry’s, which prides itself on its environmental advocacy and clean ingredients, as Kate Taylor Notes in Business Insider. The company’s website touts its “all natural ice cream” and promises that Ben & Jerry’s is “working with our farmers to reduce methane emissions from farms.”
It is possible that the glyphosate in the brand’s ice cream is coming from add-ins like peanut butter and cookie dough, which contain ingredients that are often sprayed with the herbicide, according to Strom. The OCA’s statement calls on “natural and organic food stores to drop the Ben & Jerry's brand unless the company commits to transitioning to organic.”
The jury may be out on glyphosate, but Ben & Jerry’s lovers who are worried about the herbicide can have their scoop and eat it too. Cherry Garcia, one of the company’s most iconic flavors, was not found to have any traces of glyphosate.