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Environmental group drops complaint against General Mills

Minneapolis Star Tribune logo Minneapolis Star Tribune 8/15/2019 By Kristen Leigh Painter, Star Tribune

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.

Nonprofit organization 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 various, ongoing efforts. Rather than the information being strewn throughout its website, the company put it all in one neat 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 dedicated to outlining its strategies on pesticides.

"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.

The company's four strategies aimed a reducing synthetic pesticide use include regenerative agriculture, integrated pest management, expanding organic acreage and promoting pollinator health.

"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 on its website.

The company did offer up some measurements and results not previously reported. For instance, as General Mills has increased its organic farmland, its 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. Additionally, the company published findings from a 2017 analysis of pesticide use in its five major crop, 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 publicly committed to measuring biodiversity, soil health and farm management on 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."

Kristen Leigh Painter • 612-673-4767

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