Our Non-GMO Standard
At Ben & Jerry's, we believe part of being a company with a strong social mission is a commitment to corporate transparency. Sometimes we do great things; sometimes we fall a little short of our goals. But we try our best to be as open and honest as possible.
And so, as we transition to sourcing non-GMO ingredients, we want to communicate very clearly what our standard is. We've worked closely with many partners and like-minded companies to develop our standard for defining a "non-GMO ingredient" that is clear and largely consistent with the criteria established for mandatory GMO labeling in Europe and GMO labeling legislation that is proposed in several US states.
When we refer to a "GMO", we are using this term as most popularly used and widely understood in the US (though there are varying definitions). As such, a "GMO" (or "genetically modified organism") is an organism that has been created using gene-splicing techniques, which allow DNA from one species to be injected into another species in a laboratory. This creates combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional cross-breeding methods.
"Non-GMO by Origin" refers to non-GMO according to the original seed source. Either the crop is not commercially available as a GMO crop or, if the option is available, refers to the non-GMO version. Traceability to the original non-GMO seed source is key. This is the standard that Ben & Jerry's adheres to when sourcing our ingredients.
"Non-GMO by IP" refers to non-GMO Identity Preserved crops. Identity Preservation requires practices and processes for controlling contamination from at-risk GMO inputs and ingredients. Traceability, segregation, risk assessment, sampling techniques, quality control management and analytical testing are emphasized. Ben & Jerry's does not require this from our suppliers, but many choose to supply ingredients that meet this standard. This is a standard that is slightly more rigid than Non-GMO by Origin, and therefore anything considered Non-GMO IP is also considered Non-GMO by Origin.
"PCR Testing" refers to the Polymerase Chain Reaction test that can be used to detect genetic material (DNA) in a sample. PCR(-) refers to an ingredient that was derived from a GMO source, but the genetic material is not detectable in the finished product, likely due to it being a highly refined or processed product. PCR(-) alone is not an acceptable standard for Ben & Jerry's ingredients, but will be used as a verification tool when appropriate.
Ben & Jerry's "Non-GMO" standards:
Ben & Jerry's adheres to sourcing "Non-GMO by Origin" ingredients for use in our products based on the following standards. This means we rely primarily on traceability of ingredients through the supply chain back to a non-GMO seed, rather than relying on PCR testing.
Our suppliers use the following guidelines to ensure the ingredients they provide to us are "Non-GMO by Origin":
- All suppliers must use "Non-GMO by Origin" ingredients, (including any sub-components or excepients) in the manufacture of items they supply to Ben & Jerry's.
- "Non-GMO by IP" is also acceptable.
- For any plant-based raw material derived from sugar beets, corn, soy, canola, or other crop that is commercially available in GMO varieties, suppliers must source "Non-GMO by Origin" materials.
- Suppliers to Ben & Jerry's that also handle GMO raw materials or finished products in their production facilities must take appropriate measures to segregate GMO and Non-GMO materials at all times and ensure proper cleaning measures are employed. There may be no comingling of ingredients or finished products at any point during storage or processing. There is no tolerance for use of GMO ingredients in any product supplied to Ben & Jerry's.
- Suppliers may use ingredients obtained from fermentation and processing aids or enzymes that are derived from GMOs in some circumstances, to be approved on a case-by-case basis by Ben & Jerry's.
- Suppliers will be audited for "Non-GMO by Origin" traceability and segregation compliance as part of Ben & Jerry's audit procedures. Supportive documentation review, site visits, and PCR testing at any point in the supply chain, may be part of the audit protocol. Suppliers must provide documentation and certification that materials are "Non-GMO by Origin" upon request.
For almost thirty years, we've sourced milk and cream from the family farmers of the St. Albans Dairy Cooperative. They were one of the first dairy cooperatives in the country to commit to not using recombinant bovine growth hormone( rBGH) on their cows. And they stood by us as we fought the legal battle to label our products from farmers who pledge to not use rBGH.
But to be clear, the fresh Vermont milk and cream that our family farmers supply to us is not organic. This means that in the US, it is common practice for the cows' feed to contain GMO ingredients such as corn. Current regulations in most countries with mandatory GMO labeling requirements do not require milk to be labeled as GMO when derived from cows fed GMO feed. This is also consistent with proposed state-level legislation for GMO labeling, specifically dairy from cows fed GMO feed would not be required to be labeled as containing GMO ingredients. This is the current position that Ben & Jerry's are adopting with regard to animal-derived ingredients.
Under these regulations, this does not make the dairy genetically modified. We think a good analogy is this: if you eat a corn chip containing GMO corn, it doesn't make you a genetically modified human.
We aspire to be an influence in shifting the production of all commodities away from using GMOs. We think mandatory labeling is the first step towards that goal, and believe that as the supply of non-GMO corn, soy and other commodities increases, it will be easier for family farmers to source non-GMO feed. We think that will be a good thing.