Consumers searching for greater clarity in food labeling have reason to rejoice. Ice cream manufacturer Ben & Jerry’s, a division of Unilever, decided that more transparency was in order. The Vermont-based company, the first wholly-owned subsidiary to gain B Corp Certification, recently announced their plan to completely eliminate all genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from their entire product line by 2014. According to the company, about 80 percent of their ingredients by volume are sourced non-GMO in the United States and Canada, and all their products made in Europe are already non-GMO. “We have a long history of siding with consumers and their right to know what’s in their food,” Ben & Jerry’s stated.
According to the company’s website, although their goal is for all 80 flavors to be Fair Trade Certified and sourced with non-GMO ingredients by the end of this year, the conversion will continue into 2014. Ben & Jerry’s cites complexity as the reason for this - a single flavor of their ice cream can contain almost 40 different ingredients.
The public outcry over GMOs continues to grow. According to a recent poll, 82 percent of Americans agree that foods containing GMOs should be sold with a label. The U.S. is currently the only industrialized nation lacking mandatory labeling for GMO foods. Although voters in the state of California did not approve the GMO labeling legislation Proposition 37, there are currently similar efforts underway in 20 other states, including Vermont, where the GMO labeling law recently passed by a vote of 99-42 and awaits state Senate approval. Concerns about GMO labeling have also begun to reach restaurant chains such as Chipotle Mexican Grill, who started labeling all ingredients, including GMOs, of their chains’ menu in March. According to the company’s spokesman, the chain is also working to decrease the GMO content of its ingredients.
Although Ben & Jerry’s was sold to the British-Dutch conglomerate Unilever in 2000, their recent step towards manufacturing with GMO-free ingredients solidifies their commitment to their original mission statement which focuses on social initiatives. Interestingly, Ben & Jerry’s position on GMOs appears to put them at odds with their owner, who spent $467,000 to defeat Proposition 37. Yet, Unilever’s engagement to sustainability is clear-cut. This April, the company was awarded their third consecutive top score by Globescan – SustainAbility ‘Sustainable Leaders 2013’ survey.
Will socially responsible businesses become a substitute for elected officials who fail to represent the best interests of their constituents? Although the Center for Responsive Politics calculates that federal lobbying has declined over the past several years, spending could be between $2.95 billion and $3.08 billion in 2013.
In the David versus Goliath like battle over GMO food labeling, consumers and progressive organizations have picked a fight with some of the world’s most powerful corporations. Only time will tell how their clash will play out. In the meantime, maybe Ben & Jerry’s should consider “Power to the People" for a new flavor in 2014.