General Mills: Request for Report on Pesticide Use
In 2016, General Mills launched a “Bring Back the Bees” campaign in connection with its flagship product Honey Nut Cheerios, the most popular cereal in the U.S. The campaign sought to raise awareness about declining pollinator populations.
The campaign is featured prominently on the front cover of Honey Nut Cheerios boxes, and evocatively depicts an empty space where the brand mascot, a bee, would have appeared.
Pollinator decline is relevant to General Mills’ supply chain, since most fruits and vegetables rely on pollinators to thrive. Globally, more than 40 percent of insect pollinator species are highly threatened.
There is a growing scientific consensus that a class of insecticides known as neonicotinoids, as well as widespread use of the herbicide glyphosate (the primary ingredient of Roundup), are contributing to pollinator decline. The Company’s large supply chain is known to be a significant user of pollinator-harming pesticides, particularly on corn crops.
General Mills has been accused of “greenwashing” by media and NGOs because the focus of General Mills’ campaign is not on its suppliers’ pesticide use (one of the major contributors to pollinator decline) but instead on distributing wildflower seeds and encouraging research.
While the Company recently commissioned a study of Integrated Pest Management (which could lead to reductions in pesticide use in its supply chain), General Mills does not disclose any information that would allow investors or other stakeholders to understand the degree to which the problematic pesticides are actually being reduced on its supply chain crops.
While the Company asserts that it is currently “document[ing] continuous improvement” concerning environmental impacts from its supply chain for multiple crops, including corn, it has so far not demonstrated that it is measurably tracking and reporting pesticide use reduction.
In contrast, some of General Mills’ competitors have committed to tracking and reducing pesticide use, particularly neonicotinoids. For example:
Unilever has phased out World Health Organization Class 1 pesticides for tea production and intends to phase out Class 2 pesticides by 2020.
Sysco’s IPM Program reduced pesticide use by nearly 4.9 million pounds in 2015. Sysco also reports on the quantity of pesticides avoided that affect beneficial organisms such as pollinators.
Dozens of major food and retail companies have adopted policies to restrict the use of neonicotinoids in their supply chains, including Whole Foods Market, Lowe’s, Walmart, Costco, Home Depot, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Ortho, and Aldi.
The Company’s visible campaign to preserve pollinators, combined with a lack of transparency on its own pesticide use trends, is exposing our Company to brand damage.
RESOLVED: Shareholders request that the Board disclose at regular intervals, at reasonable expense and omitting proprietary or privileged information, available quantitative metrics on pesticide use in the Company’s supply chain and related impacts on pollinators, to allow investors to assess trends over time.