"Ice cream is one of the least-contaminated products on the market today," Rep. Fred Richmond (D-N.Y.) told a Food and Drug Administration witness at ice cream hearings last week.

"Why mess around with a perfectly natural, simple, decent product?" Richmond wanted to know from FDA Commissioner Donald Kennedy, FDA has made a proposal that would allow ice cream manufacturers to subsitute a milk-derived chemical, called casein, for the milk now used in ice cream.

But regulations, which govern ice cream now indicate that Richmond's premise is wrong. Most commercially manufactured ice creams, with a few exceptions such as Haagen Dazs, Breyers, Louis Sherry and those locally produced at Giffords and University Pastry Shop, are not simple or natural. They contain few ingredients that would be recognizable to those who churn ice cream at home. In addition to 27 optional dairy ingredients that ice cream may contain, a manufacturer may use any one of 13 different sweeteners, 18 different stabilizers and 18 functional ingredients. A broad spectrum of artificial colors and flavors are found in ice cream far more often than natural colors flavors. Additives commonly found in ice cream include algin, carrageenan, sodium carboxymethyl cellulose and microcrystalline cellulose furcelleran, psyllium seed husk, gum karaya, calcium sulfate and gum acacia.

At the hearing committee member Margaret Heckler (R-Mass.) said: "I have not seen any product so deteriorate in quality as ice cream. People making it at home do so because they are yearning for the quality and taste not available in most commercial ice cream."

Ice-cream manufacturers had asked FDA to permit the substantial of the cheap, imported casein for non-fat dry milk because it would save them 2.5 per cent in ingredient costs. The dairy industry is vigorously opposing the change because they say it would have detrimental effect on their business since casein is imported.

Consumer groups oppose the change in standards for other reasons. They do not agree with Commissioner Kennedy, who told the House Agriculture Subcommittee that the agency had no choice but to permit the change in standards because the new product would be the nutritional equal of the old one and there is the possibility it might save consumers money. Kennedy did add: "If we find it is inferior we'll be as anxious as you are to get it off the market.

Heckler asked Kennedy if manufacturers had "guaranteed they will pass on, penny for penny, their savings"" It is the same question that the executive director of Community Nutrition Institute, Rod Leonard, addressed in his testimony." . . . No one can argue with any real conviction, that what is labeled as ice cream will be less expensive."

Leonard said: "There is no good social, cultural or nutritional reason to change the standards for ice cream. No nutritionally superior product will result. . ."

A press release from the International Association of Ice Cream Manufacturers tends to support Leonard's contention that savings will not be passed on to consumers. The association says other cost increases are likely to wipe out whatever savings are derived from substituting casein for non-fat dry milk. "In short," says the release, "there is no way to guarantee a price reduction to consumers because of other cost increases."