Annie Gasparro shines the light on businesses and GMO use in her "The GMO Fight Ripples Down the Food Chain” article in the Wall Street Journal on August 7th. We appreciate the time she spent interviewing our team and raising awareness around a very important issue. There are three topics that we would like to clarify our position on: (1) “GMO Milk”, (2) The costs of conversion, and (3) packaging complexity.
The article could leave readers with the mistaken impression that milk is genetically engineered. We think it’s important that people understand the difference between an ingredient that has itself been genetically manipulated and animal byproducts that have come from animals fed GMO feed. To be clear, neither milk nor cows are genetically engineered, regardless of what they ate for dinner. The 64 countries around the world that require GMO labeling do not require labeling by products from animals fed GMO feed. One way to think about it is that if you eat a corn chip with GMO corn in it, it doesn’t make you a GMO human.
Costs of Conversion
It is true that there may be a slight increase in the cost of procuring non-GMO ingredients. It’s also true that for us those ingredients are a very small portion of the overall volume of ingredients in a pint. For example, there may be a small premium for sourcing a non-GMO soy lecithin found in a fudge chip, but that soy lecithin is less than 1% of the overall ingredients in a pint. So even if there are small premiums on non-GMO ingredients, they don’t materially impact the cost to produce a pint of ice cream, our margins on the pint, nor the price a consumer will pay for that pint. That’s because the main ingredients in our products like milk, cane sugar, eggs, cocoa, vanilla, coffee, aren’t genetically modified. This is true for Ben & Jerry’s and it’s also true for much of the processed packaged food products on store shelves.
Our values led sourcing manager Cheryl Pinto did say the conversion took time and money to design new labeling and marketing. It’s also true that Ben & Jerry’s coordinated our conversion to non-GMO ingredients with a full redesign of our company's packing. We would have gone through the packaging update process regardless of whether we converted our ingredients to non-GMO. In fact, food companies make changes to labels all the time to reflect brand look and feel updates, product claims, ingredient changes, and allergen statements. The truth is companies make changes to labels all the time without passing the cost on to consumers.
We’re proud of the work we’ve done around GMOs. As with most of our values-led-sourcing initiatives, we do it because it’s consistent with our values, and it’s the right thing to do. We believe that consumers in the United States should have the same right to know what’s in their food as citizens in more than 60 other countries around the world. We believe our experience at Ben & Jerry’s shows that minor label changes to disclose things like GMO ingredients won’t drive up the cost that people pay for food at the grocery store.