An environmental group that wages shareholder resolution campaigns dropped a complaint against General Mills after the company acknowledged pesticides are a problem in food supplies and outlined steps to reduce their use.
The nonprofit As You Sow and Green Century Equity Fund last year sought to require the General Mills board of directors to regularly publish reports on the use of certain pesticides by the company’s suppliers. The resolution, voted on at its annual meeting in Minneapolis, received support from nearly one-third of its shareholders.
As You Sow filed a similar resolution in April for the upcoming shareholder meeting in September, but the group withdrew it this week after General Mills updated its language and website to address pesticide use in its supply chain.
Golden Valley-based General Mills didn’t make any sweeping new announcements, but offered up some recent research and measurements, and more clearly articulated the connections between pesticide reduction and some of its recent environmental commitments. General Mills is trying to advance regenerative agriculture practices on 1 million acres of farmland by 2030, for instance, and doubled its organic acreage.
“Most food manufacturers do not identify pesticide use as an important issue of concern, let alone outline ways to reduce use of pesticides,” said Christy Spees, environmental health lead for As You Sow. “In the food industry, General Mills is really providing the most detail at this point.”
A General Mills spokeswoman said this pesticide policy is the culmination of many of its ongoing efforts. Rather than the information being strewn throughout its website, the company put it all in one area and better explained how those initiatives would or could lead to less pesticide use on its suppliers’ farms, she said.
“In addition to our strict regulatory compliance and food safety standards, we are committed to protecting and regenerating the land from which our ingredients are grown,” General Mills said on the new webpage.
“Recognizing that synthetic pesticides may harm beneficial insects including pollinators, or drift beyond a farmer’s field, affecting nearby fields and ecosystems, we are actively working across our value chain to limit these unintended and potentially harmful impacts,” it also said.
“We have strategies in place to reduce synthetic pesticide use, and we work with trusted agronomists and other experts to implement continuous improvement practices throughout our supply chain,” General Mills said.
The company did offer up some data not previously reported. For instance, as General Mills has increased its organic farmland, it increased the pounds of pesticides avoided in the U.S. each year, from 345,000 pounds avoided in 2015 to 575,000 pounds avoided in 2018. The company also published findings from a 2017 analysis of pesticide use in its five major crops, which concluded sugar beets received the most pesticide use at 255 pounds per acre, followed by soybeans at 23 pounds, corn at 21 pounds, wheat at 4 pounds and oats at 3 pounds per acre.
General Mills also committed to measuring biodiversity, soil health and farm management at regular intervals for its regenerative agriculture strategy and reporting on those findings.
“That was a really encouraging step because what we are asking in general of food manufacturers, including of General Mills, is some sort of quantitative metric to show that pesticide use is actually being reduced in their supply chain,” Spees said. “It provides a lot more tangible evidence than what we often see in sustainable agricultural commitments.”