Ben & Jerry's web page in support of the Washington state initiative to label food with GMOs.Ben & Jerry's
More than 800 all-natural and organic companies pursue transparency on their own through third-party verification on roughly 12,000 products with the Non-GMO Project. Nevertheless, as Kastel pointed out, even some Non-GMO partners are dealing with parent corporations whose political activities threaten the customer relationships that brands spend millions of advertising dollars cultivating.
Ben & Jerry's, a wholly owned subsidiary of Unilever, is a prime example. The Vermont-based company has made feel-good progressive politics central to its identity since Ben Greenfield and Jerry Cohen started selling ice cream out of a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vt., in 1978. Couch-bound customers who felt guilty about downing a pint of "Chubby Hubby" could at least feel good about saving the Amazon rainforest.
After Ben & Jerry's was purchased by the second-largest consumer goods corporation in the world in 2000, it maintained its independent progressive mission. In 2012, when Unilever contributed nearly a half million dollars to "No on 37," Ben & Jerry's launched its "Get the Dough Out" campaign, an activist platform, which said "there's so much big money flooding into our elections...the voice of regular folks is being drowned out."
Chris Miller, a Ben & Jerry's spokesman, said the company remains a "values-led business" with a "long history of commitment to transparency and a consumer's right to know," and cited its early stance on synthetic growth hormone labeling.
Ben & Jerry's is currently 80 percent GMO-free and, regardless of Unilever's position, is committed to total non-GMO verification by mid-2014, Miller said.
Miller did not comment on the relationship between the brand and the corporation. "I don't speak for Unilever," he said.
With the Washington state vote just two months away, Ben & Jerry's has also become a prominent supporter of I-522. At a recent Yes on I-522 event in Seattle, founder Jerry Greenfield said labeling GMOs "is doable at virtually no extra cost." His namesake company has sent a "scoop truck" to Washington state as a voter education vehicle (with free ice cream).
Contributions to the "No on 522" campaign increased significantly in September, with bio-tech firms DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto spending $3.4 million and $4.8 million respectively. And the companies are just two of the six corporate contributors to the No campaign. So far, zero contributions have been made by individual citizens.
Twelve days before California voted on Prop 37 last November, Unilever sent $372,100 to the anti-labeling campaign in California. The corporation has not made a contribution to Washington state, but Ben & Jerry's knows where it stands. "There are a whole bunch of arguments about why GMO labeling is confusing or complicated," said Ben & Jerry's spokesman Miller. "But I-522 is about five words on a pack of ice cream. It's doesn't strike us as that complicated."