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Ben and Jerry's wade in to Great Barrier Reef controversy

By Helen Ward

A row has broken out between a multinational company and an Australian politician over the best way to look after the Great Barrier Reef, one of the most ecologically diverse natural phenomena in the world.

Andrew Powell, Queensland’s environment and heritage protection minister, has attacked ice cream firm Ben and Jerry’s over its claims that the reef is at risk from government plans to dredge the nearby seabed and dump the waste. He insists the company doesn’t understand the science involved.

The disagreement highlights the extent to which private companies can become politically involved, and raises concerns about how they should lobby on issues. In this case, Ben and Jerry’s has joined forces with conservation organisation WWF Australia and the Australian Marine Conservation Society to back a campaign warning that the reef’s ecosystem could be smothered as a result of the dredging project.

Ben and Jerry’s showed its support by touring the country giving out free ice cream using the slogan “Scoop ice cream, not the reef”. The firm says it is raising awareness of the danger facing the reef. 

But Mr Powell has reacted angrily to the campaign: “I am disappointed to see companies like Ben and Jerry’s signing up to a campaign of lies and deceit that has been propagated by WWF and circulating it to our kids, to young people, to Queenslanders more broadly without first checking the facts.

“The science is clear. The greatest threats to the reef are extreme weather events and the crown-of-thorns starfish, and we are taking action to address those issues and improve water quality.” The Australian Associated Press also reported him saying: “If you understand the facts, you’d want to be boycotting Ben and Jerry’s.” He has reportedly pledged to write to Ben and Jerry’s parent company Unilever about his concerns. 

The Great Barrier Reef, which extends 2,300km along Queensland’s coast and covers 344,000 square km, is the world’s most extensive coral reef system.

Questions for debate and discussion

1. What are the reasons why companies like Ben and Jerry’s adopt causes and political viewpoints? 2. Why is the Australian government unhappy with Ben and Jerry’s? 3. How would you proceed next, if you were in charge of the Save the Reef campaign at Ben and Jerry’s? 4. In your opinion, should food and cosmetics brands have political agendas? Why or why not?

Relevant resources

Great Barrier Reef facts and info This bright and colourful presentation contains a wealth of facts and interesting information about the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Endangered Animals Students seek out information about a range of endangered animals in this interactive research quest activity.

Rainforests Learn all about the climate and environment in a rainforest as well as the types of animals who live there.

BBC Nature: Reef Record Give your students an idea of the scale of the Great Barrier Reef with this stunning and informative video clip from BBC Nature.

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