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Is Ben & Jerry’s Protecting the Environment?

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Their ice cream sure is good but are they contributing to destroying our environment?  This ice cream icon started in Vermont in 1978 and claims to be as devoted to stewardship to the environment as it is to creating new ice cream flavors.  The friendly image propelled the brand into one of Unilever’s (their corporate owner) rising stars with revenues close to $600 million a year and growing.  They are, like many other corporate giants, actively supporting industrial dairy which is so damaging to the environment, the cows and the farmers that this system is destined to collapse.

They are still clinging to its Vermont heritage but Vermont is no longer home to an abundance of grazing cows producing rich, creamy milk that is used to make their premium ice cream. CAFO’s are becoming the norm and farmers are forced to grow their herds and increase milk production using artificial methods like feeding cows an unnatural amount of grain-based food, 24 hour confinement and increased number of milkings per day. Because of the price of milk now, the average-sized dairy farm in Vermont is operating at a loss of $100,000 a year. Farmers are only getting about $14 for 11.6 gallons of milk that costs them about $22 to produce. There is currently a petition by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) to encourage Ben & Jerry’s to stop defrauding consumers and convert to organic.

The industrial dairy industry dumped 43 million gallons of milk in 2016 due to a massive milk glut.  This was the result of a 2014 spike in milk prices that encouraged many dairy farmers to add more cows to their farms.  According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data showed dairy cows increased by 40,000 in 2016 with a 1.4% increase in production per cow. This resulted in milk prices declining 22% to $16.30 with too much milk and nowhere to sell it.

Now we are at a point where dairy cows are dying at an alarming rate by suffering from burnout and disease. The U.S. dairy herds mortality rates are more than 10% a year, which is up from 3.8% in 2002.

The FDA has authority to require milk to be tested if evidence exists that drug residues may be in the milk supply.  Some dairy farms have been stopped by the FDA from selling their cattle for meat after drug residue violations; however, this does not typically extend to the milk.

Now the question is if Ben & Jerry’s will support farming the natural way!  Grass-fed dairy is a viable solution to the problems of industrial dairy.

  • When a cow eats corn and grain the pH of the rumen becomes acidic and destroys some flora and increases systemic inflammation that will inevitably shorten the cow’s lifespan and increases the risk of infection.
  • By raising grass-fed cows it requires fewer resources than growing grain crops to feed CAFO cows as well as fewer chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
  • A 100% grass fed farm spreads manure over pastures naturally as the cows roam, and there is no need for environmentally destructive manure lagoons.
  • Grass-fed dairy farming works best with small herds and then helps also to support local economies and small farmers who can then claim a premium price for their premium dairy products.  

More than 200 dairy farms in Vermont have transitioned to organic and are returning their cows to a grass-based diet.  Purchasing your grass-fed milk and other foods from a local organic farm or co-op is one of the best ways to ensure you are getting high-quality food.  Try making your own grass-fed milk ice cream at home. The Campaign for Real Milk website can help you to locate a raw, grass-fed milk source near you.

Dr Fredda Branyon

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