Ben & Jerry's is doing a few things right. It has pledged abstinance from dairy farms that use bovine growth hormone. It sources paper products from a sustainable paper supplier. It purchases carbon offsets to even out its contribution to the global carbon output. It even sends its ice cream waste to a methane bio-digester.
Overall, B&J's has a reputation of being a conscientious company.
But in one particular area, according to the watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the ice cream company falls short: product labeling.
CSPI is pointing its almighty finger at Ben & Jerry's for calling its ice cream and yogurt "all natural."
In fact, according to Eatocracy, all but five of the 53 flavors of the product line "contain dextrose, alkalized cocoa, corn syrup, hydrogenated oils or other artificial flavors and chemically modified ingredients."
In the article CSPI posted to its website, Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson said, “It’s sad that Ben & Jerry’s is trying to pass off products laden with these factory-spun ingredients as ‘natural,’ when there’s little natural about them. These ingredients are man-made and simply don’t occur in nature.”
CSPI is threatening to call the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) into the ring if Ben & Jerry's doesn't 'fess up and drop its natural claims.
Ben & Jerry's has, in essence, admitted as much. Its not-so-natural items are listed in the small print. But listing ingredients that way is against FDA regulation—or, as CSPI puts it, "an outright violation of the FDA’s rules."
According to Boston.com, the issue may be one of semantics. Ben & Jerry's insists its practices are well within the federal guidelines. In response to CSPI's accusations, Rob Michalak, Ben & Jerry's director of social mission, said, "The definition of 'natural' is evolving. The CSPI has a particular point of view on this. We've always used FDA definitions of what's natural and not natural." (For more on the loopholes and leniencies of FDA regulations, check out this TakePart story on lead found in supplements.)
Boston.com sums up the linguistic lenience:
Although the FDA does not have a formal definition of the word natural, the agency’s acting director of regulatory guidance explained in a letter that the agency has “consistently discouraged the use” of the term “because its meaning is ambiguous and may unjustifiably imply to consumers that foods labeled as ‘natural’ are inherently superior to other foods…” Later, the agency wrote that the term natural means “that nothing artificial or synthetic … has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected in the food.”
Photo: theimpulsivebuy/Creative Commons via Flickr