'Unsafe' levels of dioxin in gourmet ice cream; more dioxin in Ben & Jerry's than gasoline refinery effluent, researchers report

August 16, 2000

Levels of dioxin in a sample serving of Ben & Jerry's brand ice cream are approximately 2,200 times greater than the level of dioxin allowed in a "serving" of wastewater discharged into San Francisco Bay from the Tosco Refinery, according to a study presented at the Dioxins 2000 conference today in Monterrey, California.

Ben & Jerry's promotional literature, available at its "scoop shops" and on its web site, states, "Dioxin is known to cause cancer, genetic and reproductive defects and learning disabilities... The only safe level of dioxin exposure is no exposure at all." Dioxin is a by-product of industrial processes and may also be created naturally through combustion of plant materials.

The study authors report that, according to Ben & Jerry's and current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards, the level of dioxin measured could cause about 200 "extra" cancers among lifetime consumers of Ben & Jerry's ice cream. Under the EPA's pending assessment of dioxin, the estimate would increase to about 2,000 "extra" cancers.

"The level of dioxin in a single serving of the Ben & Jerry's World's Best Vanilla Ice Cream tested was almost 200 times greater than the "virtually safe [daily] dose" currently used by the EPA, said Michael Gough, lead study author. Gough is a former government scientist who chaired the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services advisory panel on the effects of dioxin-contaminated Agent Orange on U.S. Air Force personnel in Vietnam.

"An independent laboratory measured 0.79 ± 0.38 parts per trillion of dioxin in the sample of ice cream. A serving of that ice cream would contain 80 picograms of dioxin. In contrast, the Tosco Refinery wastewater is permitted to contain 0.14 picograms of dioxin per liter. " said Gough.

"Our result has measurement error associated with it and the sample may or may not be representative of all Ben & Jerry's ice cream. But our result is consistent with current scientific literature," added Gough. The result was confirmed by a second independent laboratory using a different methodology.

Gough and co-author Steven Milloy of Junkscience.com noted they believe existing scientific evidence does not credibly link low levels of dioxin exposure with human health effects. "But not everyone agrees," said Milloy. "Ben & Jerry's and Greenpeace - the company's source for information on dioxin - have concluded that dioxin is not safe at any level."

"If dioxin is so dangerous, perhaps Ben & Jerry's should remove its ice cream from the market until it is 'safe,' consistent with the company's promotional literature," suggested Milloy.

"Many children enjoy Ben & Jerry's ice cream," said Milloy, "but by the company's own standards, its ice cream is not safe. According to our test, a 40-pound child may consume in a serving of Ben & Jerry's about 740 times the level of dioxin the EPA says is 'safe.' Under the EPA's pending assessment of dioxin, the amount would be 7,400 times greater than the EPA standard. Is Ben & Jerry's choosing corporate profits over children's health?" Milloy asked. "An appropriate new flavor either would be 'Tasty Toxics' or 'World's Best Hypocrisy'."
The study is titled "CALUX and GC/MS Analysis of TEQ Contamination for Risk Assessment of Exposure to Dioxins in Ice Cream." It will be presented as poster P-251, in the poster session on Thursday, August 17.

For further information, please contact Steve Milloy at 202-467-8586 or milloy@cais.com.


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