Please note: this guide was written in 2015 and should be used for reference only. It is scheduled for an update in 2022.
Milk and cream are essential ingredients for making dairy ice creams. Unless you chose an organic-certified ice cream, you cannot be sure of high animal welfare standards.
Many non-organic companies receive a Factory Farming mark for the prevalence of intensive farming techniques like zero grazing in the dairy industry. See the Butter guide.
Organic certification also provides a consumer-facing guarantee that cattle have not been fed genetically modified animal feed, as organic certification prohibits the use of GMOs. According to the Food Standards Agency’s website ‘almost all’ the soya produced by Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and the USA (the major soya producers) is genetically modified, as is ‘much of’ the maize imported from the USA.
As the EU animal feed industry currently imports approximately 70% of its maize, soya and rapeseed requirements, it becomes increasingly hard to ensure that GMO animal feed is excluded from the dairy supply chain.
Companies have therefore lost a half mark for the likely use of GMO animal feed if their products contain uncertified dairy. They also lose a whole mark in the Animal Rights category.
Organic brands are free from GMOs and factory farming. Roskilly’s, Yeo Valley, Cream O’Galloway, Green & Blacks and Waitrose Duchy Organic ice creams all only use organic milk, as does Mackie’s organic ice cream variety. See also dairy-free ice cream.
The devastating impacts associated with unsustainable palm oil production may be added to your ice cream’s ingredients. Palm oil commonly coats toffee and butterscotch pieces, and is often used as a cheap source of fat and as an emulsifier in budget ice creams – especially those that have had lots of air whipped into them. Emulsifiers help to keep milk fat evenly dispersed during freezing and storage, which helps to stabilise the air incorporated into the ice cream, providing a smooth frozen desert.
A general rule of thumb for avoiding palm oil: avoid poor quality ice creams with long ingredients lists!
Palm oil scores
Palm oil rating
|Roskily's||palm oil free|
|Thaymar||palm oil free|
|Ben & Jerry's, Wall's||14|
|Green & Black's||13|
|Kelly's of Cornwall||9|
|Bally Bleat, Mullins||0|
|Loseley, Yorkshire Dales, Thayers, Beechdean||0|
Bitter sweet sugar
Sugar-related health issues are predicted to cost the NHS £9.7 billion per year by 2050, “with wider costs to society and business projected to reach £49.9 billion per year.” Sugar production is also associated with numerous environmental issues, poor workers’ rights and land grabs.
Although sugar is considered to be an essential ice cream ingredient, some companies are experimenting with alternatives.
Exploiting the taste buds
Along with cocoa, vanilla has been linked to forced child labour, specifically in Madagascar. As always, buying certified products is the simplest method of ensuring you vote for improving workers’ rights standards, with Fairtrade certification generally considered the best standard currently available.
In relation to the UK ice cream market, the Soil Association’s organic certification is the most commonly used standard, which includes a clause on workers’ rights and child labour.
Of the companies making chocolate ice cream, Yeo Valley, Roskilly’s and the Co-op achieve best ratings for cocoa sourcing.
Although we haven’t rated companies specifically on their vanilla sourcing practices, Fairtrade and organic certified vanilla ice creams are the recommended Ethical Consumer choice.