Ben & Jerry's Decides Against Human Milk

PETA Proposal Would Have Changed Vermont's Image

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Unilever's Ben & Jerry's has opted against a suggestion by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to replace the cow's milk in its products with human milk.

With no overt satirical intent, PETA on Tuesday sent a letter to the brand's founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, urging them to make the switch. Since the duo sold out to Unilever eight years ago, however, they did not get final say on the proposal. A spokesman for the brand said that while the company valued PETA's input, Unilever has opted against the idea.

"We applaud PETA's novel approach to bringing attention to an issue," he said, "but we believe a mother's milk is best used for her child." He added that Ben & Jerry's had no role in cooking up the proposal as a publicity stunt.

Certainly, the idea would be transformational for the Vermont countryside, from which Ben & Jerry's still gets much of its cow's milk. It could have boosted tourism of a certain sort and renewed interest of young men in agriculture as a career. It might have required the brand to remove the cows from its logo in favor of something more closely resembling the old/new Starbucks logo.

But there are other practical difficulties. By some estimates, it takes 12 gallons of cow's milk to produce one gallon of ice cream, and with a lower fat content, mother's milk might be less efficient. The Ben & Jerry's spokesman declined to release volume numbers for competitive reasons, but Information Resources Inc. data, not counting Wal-Mart or foodservice outlets, indicates the brand sold more than 73 million pints of ice cream in the 52 weeks ended Sept. 7. Even assuming a woman could supply enough milk for a pint a day, that would still require more than 200,000 to contribute to the effort full time, not counting the needs of Wal-Mart or other outlets.

"The fact that human adults consume huge quantities of dairy products made from milk that was meant for a baby cow just doesn't make sense," said PETA Exec VP Tracy Reiman in a statement. "Everyone knows that 'the breast is best,' so Ben & Jerry's could do consumers and cows a big favor by making the switch to breast milk."

Her letter to Ben and Jerry noted that a Swiss restaurant, Storchen, is preparing to unveil a menu that includes soups, stews and sauces made with at least 75% breast milk. She said cow's milk and its production are hazards to humans and cows alike.