A new class-action lawsuit claims that Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream is misleading consumers into believing that their product derives from "happy cows" cared for by "happy farmers."
Instead, says lead plaintiff James Ehlers, the world-famous ice cream is produced mostly from milk produced in "factory-style, mass-production dairy operations" of Ben & Jerry's parent company, Unilever.
Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream was founded in 1978 by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield in Burlington, Vermont. The company became famous for its social conscience, contributing percentages of its revenue to various causes, as well as for its commitment to high environmental standards and humane farming practices in its own production.
In 2000, Cohen and Greenfield sold the company to Unilever, an Anglo-Dutch multinational food conglomerate. According to Ehlers' complaint, the new owners failed to maintain Ben & Jerry's previous high standards.
Ehlers, a clean-water activist from Colchester, Vermont, argues that Unilever is wrongfully benefiting from the deserved reputation achieved by Cohen and Greenfield. Ben & Jerry's ice cream continues to be known for its high quality, but part of the reason people paid more for it was because they supported the company's commitment to social and environmental standards, Ehlers argues.
Unilever has promoted the "happy cows" marketing angle through its use of "Caring Dairy" farms. But according to the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Vermont on Oct. 29, only a minority of the milk and cream used in the making of the ice cream comes from those farms. The rest, the suit says, comes from mass-production operations.
Ehlers' class-action lawsuit follows similar claims made in a lawsuit filed in 2018 against Unilever by the Organic Consumers Organization. In January, a Washington, D.C. superior court judge denied Unilever's motion to dismiss the case, ruling that the case could proceed on its merits. That suit is still pending.
Meanwhile, Ben & Jerry's products continue to employ images of happy cartoon cows, along with green fields and blue skies.