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Is That Right? Ben & Jerry's isn't "all natural" after all

We can all breathe easier now: Ben & Jerry's announced this week that it will stop labeling its ice cream "all natural."

The dramatic move came after the Vermont-based company, long a bastion of social and environmental activism, was called to the carpet in August by the D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest. In a letter to Ben & Jerry's parent company, Unilever, CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson noted that such ingredients as alkalized cocoa and partially hydrogenated soybean oil that are commonly found in Ben & Jerry's ice creams aren't exactly "natural."

The FDA has notoriously backed off from providing a clear definition -- for manufacturers and consumers -- for the term "natural." On its "Food Ingredients and Colors" consumer-oriented Web page, here's how the agency answers a question about "natural" ingredients:

Q. What is the difference between natural and artificial ingredients? Is a naturally produced ingredient safer than an artificially manufactured ingredient?

A. Natural ingredients are derived from natural sources (e.g., soybeans and corn provide lecithin to maintain product consistency; beets provide beet powder used as food coloring). Other ingredients are not found in nature and therefore must be synthetically produced as artificial ingredients. Also, some ingredients found in nature can be manufactured artificially and produced more economically, with greater purity and more consistent quality, than their natural counterparts. For example, vitamin C or ascorbic acid may be derived from an orange or produced in a laboratory. Food ingredients are subject to the same strict safety standards regardless of whether they are naturally or artificially derived.

For now, at least, Ben & Jerry's appears to be hedging a bit: On its Web site, an animated Woody Jackson Holstein cow places a black patch over the word "all" on a pint of Ben & Jerry's, leaving the word "natural" intact.

Still, the company has basically chosen to play nice. But might it not have done a greater service by holding its ground, refusing to change its label until the FDA finishes the work of defining "natural"?

For the record, CSPI acknowledged up front that there's nothing unsafe about the ingredients in question. In fact, the organization noted, the heavy cream in Ben & Jerry's poses a greater risk to consumers, as it's full of artery-clogging saturated fat.

Now that this "all natural" situation has been addressed, I say we move on to weightier matters. For instance, what evidence does Ben & Jerry's have to support the package claim that its ice cream is "Vermont's Finest"?

I feel a north-bound road trip is in order. Someone's got to get up to Vermont to verify that claim, don't you think?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  | October 1, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Is That Right?, Nutrition and Fitness  
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Ben & Jerry's ice cream -- and consumers' treatment of it -- is a textbook example of willful blindness. Their ice creams are super-premium, chock full of saturated fat. But they market their ice cream with "feel good" words like "all natural" (now, just "natural") and "organic." The feel-good words allow consumers to ignore the undeniable fact that they are consuming one of the most artery-clogging ice creams around. In fact, if McDonald's sold this kind of super-premium ice cream under its brand name, instead of under hippie-leftie-PC Jerry and Ben's names, it would have been featured in "Supersize Me."

Funny how a few big donations to leftie politicians allow Ben & Jerry to get away with (almost literally) murder.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | October 1, 2010 9:28 AM | Report abuse

The FDA doesn't need to define "natural"; the public did it for them. Let the consumers declare what "natural" is. B+J has not lied about its ingredients, and "natural" is an opinionated continuum. Which devout vegan-by-moral-reasons would claim that a dairy product is "natural"? There will always be a party that dissents. Kudos to B+J, for not staking a position that could never be defended on all sides. They truly are committed to "peace, love and ice cream."

Posted by: swimmerjoy | October 2, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

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