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Ben & Jerry’s and Measure 92: If You Can’t Define “Organism,” You Can’t Logically Oppose GMOs

It may not seem like it, but I don’t go searching for anti-GMO sentiment on the internet to fuel my wrath. I like the rare occasions when I’m not forced to write. I enjoy reading and playing with my kids, or kicking back and conversing with my husband over a leisurely glass of wine. Still, when this video posted on October 10th was brought to my attention, I couldn’t let it slide. As much as I hate promoting anything in favor of Oregon’s mandatory GMO-labeling initiative, I urge you to take a moment to watch. I promise, I’ll explain why:




I’ll give Ben & Jerry’s this much – their PR/marketing people are brilliant. They are pro-labeling and anti-GMO; this is an unequivocally unscientific stance. GM technology is inherently safe. While anti-GM masses tout the so-called “right to know,” natural-food industry giants understand that labeling benefits Big Organic. After all, labeling will only serve to stigmatize safe and beneficial technologies, increase food costs, and effectively lead to dwindling demand and potential ban of all GMOs. Make no mistakes: there are a lot of large pockets that will only deepen if labeling initiatives are passed. Feel free to read some of my posts for detailed justifications.

While their stance has no scientific basis, it’s an excellent marketing ploy to attract the type of consumer that buys into the “natural is better” fallacy. Still, Ben & Jerry’s is an extraordinarily savvy company. Their product is ice cream, an innately unhealthy, high-fat, high-sugar food. So they make fun of themselves first in order to deflect opposition. Most viewers who see through so-called “right to know” motives might think,  “A leader of the measure 92 bandwagon is Ben & Jerry’s, an unhealthy ‘munchie’ company. Most of the followers of this pied piper-esque movement don’t even really know why they want labels.”

To be fair, the video is hilarious and well-written. In true hipster fashion, it preemptively and ironically mocks its own grass-roots, uninformed, greenwashed mob of followers claiming a right to know what’s in its processed snacks. The video will likely go viral, and lots of people will see the call to action at the end to support the labeling initiative. It’s a disgustingly brilliant ploy.

Readers, I should have watched the video, been momentarily annoyed, and proceeded with my day. Alas, I decided to click on the Ben & Jerry’s GMO information site. This is what got my blood boiling enough to write this rant. They define GMO as follows:

“Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are organisms that have had their genetic makeup (DNA) altered through genetic engineering in a way that does not occur in nature or through traditional cross-breeding methods. And GMOs aren’t just altered organisms; they can be plants, vegetables or even things like fish.”

I had to re-read this several times to make sure my eyes didn’t deceive me. Thankfully, my eyes and brain are still functioning just fine. The problem is, Ben & Jerry’s doesn’t know the definition of the word “organism.” Readers, friends, followers, hold me back. I don’t usually get so viscerally annoyed that I want to punch something, but I’m getting there. Plants, vegetables and fish are all organisms. People who don’t know what an “organism” is have no right to spout drivel on a pro-GMO labeling initiative.

As I always say, genetic engineering is a set of tools. It’s not a product, it’s not a company, it’s not a malicious, greedy CEO in a power-suit. These technologies aren’t only wielded by the Monsantos and the Dows of the world, but also scientists and researchers at academic institutions, small-businesses, and local government sub-agencies. GM food is inherently safe. We must subdue the mob-with-pitchforks (or munchies?) mentality, and nourish rather than stunt progress.

While I feel the urge, I’m not going to punch anything. Rather, here’s my call to action. Doing any of the following will appease my exasperation. More importantly, it will help spread the message that mandatory GMO labeling will only stigmatize a technology that is inherently safe, has the potential to nourish the malnourished, and sustain the earth’s growing population with the finite resources at hand:

  • Share this blog post with all of your social media followers.
  • Tweet with hashtag #NoOn92 with your reasons why mandatory labeling is an unscientific, unsubstantiated initiative.
  • Down vote the You Tube video embedded in this post.
  • I hate to say this, because it’s delicious, and I’ve never called for a boycott:  Don’t purchase Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. There are plenty of other scrumptious ice creams to indulge in, whether or not you have a case of the munchies.


Update from the author posted at 3:00 pm CST on 10/13/14:  It appears that Ben & Jerry’s has removed the incorrect definition of the word “organism.” I commend them for correcting their mistake. After all, while they still promote misinformation and harmful labeling initiatives, at least Ben & Jerry’s is no longer disseminating the idea that plants and fish aren’t organisms! I’m glad I got a screen shot to prove my point:




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Kavin Senapathy

Kavin Senapathy is a mom of two, co-Executive Director of March Against Myths, public speaker, Forbes contributor and author in Madison, WI. She is also co-author of "The Fear Babe: Shattering Vani Hari's Glass House". Follow her on Facebook and twitter @ksenapathy

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  1. Oh, right, I’m sure they know all the genes in their pot (likely a hybrid….). Snorf.

    In the ad, I noticed they also had the No GMO signs–as we keep finding, it’s not really about the labels. Again. That’s just the camel nose under the tent for their real goals.

    What I don’t understand: if it’s so easy and important, why doesn’t Ben & Jerry’s already have labels all over their stuff? They don’t need to have laws in place to give their consumers this information.

    But I’m with you on people who have no grasp of biology and science–should we really trust these folks to understand food safety science? If they don’t really know what organisms are, how can we be sure they keep bad organisms out of the foods?

    1. mary3 – you’re absolutely right. It’s not about the labels. It’s an indirect way to get rid of GM foods via fear-mongering. Organism is one of the most fundamental terms of biology. It’s akin to not knowing what an animal or plant is. I almost wish I hadn’t seen this on their website. Can someone make a GIF of my head exploding?

  2. Like the anti-vaxxers, this really has moved out of science and into woo for a lot of people. Did you see the Jimmy Kimmel bit on this, with the one person who was saying it was about keeping “bad vibes” (or it might have been “bad energy,” I can’t remember) out of the body?

    I’ve had other people argue that it’s a moral issue, that we didn’t create these organisms or their genes, and therefore we have no right to change them. Another sort of woo.

  3. I like the sly appeal to tradition in there. “No no, these are bad because they don’t appear this way in nature.” “But neither do bananas…” “Oh, but that’s TRADITIONAL CROSS BREEDING!”

    Very Luddite!

  4. delegar – it’s really far removed from science at this point. It’s as if those with scientific insight are fighting a losing battle with fear-mongering.

    Hanoumatoi – This video is chock full of stuff like this. (Hmm, similar to B&J ice cream!)

  5. If they believe GMOs, or any ingredients from a GMO are dangerous, why do the labeling laws exempt restaurant food, alcohol and cheese? Isn’t it dangerous in those products too? How about chemical/irradiation mutagenesis as a breeding method just like genetic engineering? Shouldn’t the Ruby Red grapefruit contain a glow-in-the-dark radiation sticker because it was developed using radiation mutagenesis? If the labeling labels want to be scientific ignorant, make it ignorant across the board, not just for GMO.


  6. Prop 92 doesn’t address a far more important issue: solar irradiation. Plants grown on the East side of fields get more dangerous afternoon radiation, whereas plants grown on the West side get get beneficial morning Sun, filtered through the gentle morning dew. What could be more healthy? So why aren’t are foods labelled to show the origin of the ingredients? WEST SIDE GOOD! EAST SIDE BAD! JUST SAY NO TO SIO!* WE HAVE THE RIGHT TO KNOW!

    [*]Solar Irradiated Organisms

    1. Buzz, you are full of it. While west side might be good for plants that grow uniformly close to the ground, like strawberries, cabbages, grains, etc., the exact opposite is true for tree fruits, tomatoes, beans and peas, etc. Those plants get the beneficial morning sun on the East side and afternoon radiation on the West side. EAST SIDE GOOD! WEST SIDE BAD! JUST SAY NO TO SIO! WE HAVE THE RIGHT TO KNOW!

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