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Ben & Jerry’s Sourcing New Ingredients, Renaming Flavors to Meet Non-GMO, Fair Trade Standard

Image credit: Ryan Mercer/Burlington Free Press

In support of Vermont’s first-in-the-nation GMO-labeling law, Ben & Jerry’s has temporarily renamed its beloved Chocolate Fudge Brownie flavor ice cream “Food Fight Fudge Brownie,” and announced that $1 from each sale of the limited-edition flavor from Ben & Jerry’s locations throughout Vermont will support the State’s legal defense fund: Several food and biotech companies have filed suit against challenging the law, which is slated to go into effect in July 2016 — hence, the “Vermont Food Fight Fund.” The company says the “Food Fight” version of the flavor will be available in its company-owned shops but not in grocery store pints.

“This is a pretty simple issue,” co-founder Jerry Greenfield said in a statement. “Vermonters want the right to know what’s in their food, and apparently a bunch of out-of-state companies don’t want to tell us.”

But that’s not all the company is doing to support the measure: Ben & Jerry’s is making good on its 2013 commitment to switch all 50 of its flavors to non-genetically modified, Fair Trade-certified ingredients, which involves finding new sources for most of them — and new names for several iconic flavors.

Case in point: "Coffee Heath Bar Crunch" is now “Coffee Toffee Bar Crunch,” since Hershey’s Heath Bar is now a no-no under Ben & Jerry’s new standards.

According to the Burlington Free Press, Ben & Jerry's is on its way to achieving its non-GMO, Fair Trade-certified goal, having transformed 14 of its 50 flavors: Cherry Garcia, Chocolate, Chocolate Therapy, Chunky Monkey, Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz Buzz, Cookie Dough, Everything but the, Milk & Cookies, New York Super Fudge Chunk, Peanut Butter Cup, Phish Food, Pistachio, Strawberry Cheesecake and Vanilla. The company expects to reach the goal by the end of the year. 

While the shift away from genetically modified ingredients has spawned some criticism from fans upset about potential quality changes in their favorite flavors, according to the Free Press, the move puts the company back in the good graces of a growing GMO-opposition movement: The ice-cream maker felt a backlash after parent company Unilever spent more than $450,000 to try and defeat California’s GMO-labeling initiative (Prop 37) two years ago. Less than a year later, Ben & Jerry's announced plans to go non-GMO.

"We're not scientists, and we know there are debates pro and con about GMO usage," the company states on its website. "Regardless of the debate, Ben & Jerry's believes people should be informed and have the right to decide for themselves."

"We felt like this was something Ben & Jerry's ought to be a leader on," Chris Miller, Ben & Jerry's social mission activism manager, told the paper.

To meet Fair Trade certification requirements, items such as sugar, cocoa, coffee, vanilla and bananas must come from farmers who receive a fair price, pay fair wages and offer good working conditions. Common ingredients such as sugar, soy lecithin and corn syrup are most commonly available in genetically modified forms, and for Ben & Jerry's, going non-GMO is about these, as well as the bits of candy, cookies and other goodies that it swirls into its ice cream — rather than the ice cream itself: By the standards laid out in Vermont’s new labeling law and those used in Europe, dairy products are considered unaffected by GMOs and therefore exempt. Though most of the cows making the cream eat genetically modified corn, Ben & Jerry's argues that it's the corn they eat, rather than the cows or the milk they produce, that are genetically modified, according to the Free Press.

But in order to meet the standards of the Non-GMO Project, which certifies products proven to be GMO-free, dairy and meat must also come from animals fed non-GMO feed to earn its verification.

Miller said with 90 percent of feed corn genetically modified in the United States, Ben & Jerry's would have difficulty finding non-GMO sources for its dairy ingredients.

Ken Roseboro, editor/publisher of the national Non-GMO Sourcebook, a manual that helps food producers find GMO-free ingredients told the Free Press that he expects sourcing non-genetically modified ingredients to become easier and cheaper as more food manufacturers seek the ingredients and the market grows. He said ingredients are more readily available in Europe, where GMO labeling is mandatory, and that they currently cost 25 to 50 percent more. Ben & Jerry’s says it has no plans to raise its prices as a result of the transition.

In January, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a trade group whose members include Unilever, Hershey, General Mills and roughly 300 other food-industry giants, petitioned Congress to enact a single federal standard for the labeling of GMO foods. Despite this, and its financial support in defeating labeling initiatives in California's Prop 37, General Mills made a historic, non-GMO commitment of its own in January when it committed to making original Cheerios GMO-free.


Jennifer Elks is Managing Editor of Sustainable Brands. She is a writer, editor and foodie who is passionate about improving food systems, closing loops and creating more livable cities. She loves cooking, wine, cooking with wine, correcting spelling errors in… [Read more about Jennifer Elks]


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