Stossel: Scoops of Hypocrisy?

Is it socially responsible for an ice cream company to decry the ill effects of a chemical, congratulate itself for removing it from the packaging, but fail to mention that the chemical exists in its product?

In his Give Me a Break! column, 20/20’s John Stossel speaks to Ben & Jerry’s Director of Social Mission Liz Bankowski to investigate the company’s campaign against the chemical dioxin.

Ben & Jerry’s, the Vermont-based ice cream company that boasts a philosophy of “caring capitalism,” has recently developed environmentally friendly packaging. It is called the “Eco-Pint” and is made with unbleached kraft paper rather than the traditional whiter, chlorine-treated materials.

The company’s aim is to curb the production of dioxin, a chemical that is created through the bleaching process in an attempt to reduce water pollution. Burning garbage and medical waste are other examples of processes that emit dioxin.

Spreading the Word

To introduce this environmentally sound innovation, more than a year ago Ben & Jerry’s decided to distribute pamphlets explaining the ill effects of dioxin to its 300 scoop-shops around the country.

The brochure offered a few statements about dioxin, courtesy of Greenpeace, including, “Dioxin is known to cause cancer, genetic and reproductive defects and learning disabilities” and “The only safe level of dioxin exposure is no exposure at all.”

The brochure did not mention the fact that dioxin is a fat-soluble chemical that is found in nearly all animal food products, including dairy and ice cream. The Competitive Enterprise Institute and tested the ice cream itself, and found the ice cream contains much more dioxin than the package ever would.

Statement: “Far Too Sweeping”

Bankowski admits that the company knew its product contained the chemical it was warning consumers about. She says that, upon reflection, the Greenpeace statement was “far too sweeping a statement for us to make.” The company has since removed the statement from its Web site and is in the process of revising its in-store pamphlet.

“Are you hypocrites?” asks Stossel. “Absolutely not,” replies Bankowski.

“All Ben & Jerry’s can do to get dioxin out of the food supply is create less demand for bleached paper and thus, less production of dioxin,” she says.

To a company that professes to be socially responsible and concerned about the creation and consumption of dioxin in the environment without mentioning that the substance is in their product, Stossel says, “Give Me a Break!”