Most "All Natural" Ben & Jerry's Flavors Have Unnatural Ingredients

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Most "All Natural" Ben & Jerry's Flavors Have Unnatural Ingredients

WASHINGTON - At least 48 out of 53 flavors of Ben & Jerry’s “All Natural” ice
cream and frozen yogurt contain alkalized cocoa, corn syrup, partially
hydrogenated soybean oil, or other ingredients that either don’t exist
in nature or that have been chemically modified. Calling products with
unnatural ingredients “natural” is a false and misleading use of the
term, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Today, CSPI urged Ben and Jerry’s
to drop the claim or else the nonprofit watchdog group will take its
concerns to the Food and Drug Administration and state attorneys
general.

Founded in 1978 by Vermonters Ben Cohen and Jerry
Greenfield, Ben & Jerry’s is now a unit of the Anglo-Dutch consumer
product conglomerate Unilever, which besides owning familiar food brands
such as Hellman’s and Lipton, also makes Vaseline, Dove soap, and Axe
deodorant. Thanks to the ice cream company’s concerns about the
environment, the company has garnered consumer trust and a reputation
for social responsibility—but that image risks being sullied by the
allegations of misleading labeling.

In 2002, CSPI alerted the FDA
and the company to Ben & Jerry’s deceptive use of the “All Natural”
claim, but neither took action, and the problem seems to have only
gotten worse, according to CSPI. The consumer group says that the
deceptive labeling is as unfair to competitors as it is to consumers.

For instance, “All Natural” Chubby Hubby ice cream contains
three non-natural ingredients: alkalized cocoa, partially hydrogenated
soybean oil, and corn syrup. Dublin Mudslide contains alkalized cocoa
and anhydrous dextrose. A list of all the improperly labeled flavors
and their ingredients is included in CSPI’s letter.

“These ingredients are safe—only a small amount of partially
hydrogenated oil is used—but it’s a stretch to call any of them
‘natural,’” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “Ben
& Jerry’s sylvan labels notwithstanding, these ingredients come from
the factory, not the farm. And slapping an ‘all natural’ label on the
products certainly implies that the products are top quality and deserve
to fetch a higher price.”

Cocoa processed with alkali is the most frequently used
unnatural ingredient as it used in 36 Ben & Jerry’s flavors.
Treating cocoa with an alkalizing agent changes the chemical structure,
taste, and appearance of cocoa and reduces its acidity and flavonol
content. Flavonols are antioxidants with possible health benefits.
Indeed, Unilever itself recently sponsored research to investigate an
association between flavonol intake and the incidence of stroke. In addition, the Hershey Center for Health and Nutrition (part of the candy company) specifically distinguishes
alkalized cocoa powder from natural cocoa powder.
Corn syrup and corn syrup solids are created by chemically or
enzymatically converting cornstarch into sugar and short chains of sugar
molecules. They occur in 28 flavors. Other artificial ingredients in
Ben & Jerry’s frozen desserts include dextrose and maltodextrin
(both are chemically or enzymatically converted from cornstarch) and
vanillin (a synthetic vanilla flavor).

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.”

In any event, emphasized CSPI, the biggest problem with Ben
& Jerry’s ice creams is saturated fat—a major promoter of heart
disease. A one-scoop (half-cup) serving of a typical flavor has about
half-a-day’s worth of saturated fat.

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Since 1971, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has been a strong advocate for nutrition and health, food safety, alcohol policy, and sound science.

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