General Mills – Pesticide Use (2019)
Outcome: Successfully withdrawn after the company stated its intent to reduce the use of pesticides and initiated reporting on the progress of its regenerative agriculture program.
Cheerios’ oats-based cereal was recently implicated in a report of food products containing residual amounts of glyphosate, the highly controversial ingredient in RoundUp. Glyphosate is classified as a probable human carcinogen by the World Health Organization and a known carcinogen by the state of California. Research links glyphosate-based herbicides to kidney damage and endocrine disruption even at low levels. Environmental consequences from glyphosate range from reduced effectiveness of antibiotic treatments to increased mortality among critical pollinators.
Pre-harvest use of glyphosate is increasingly common for grains. Cheerios’ website claims its products are “made with the best oats possible.” However, the company has not provided metrics to assure investors that it is mitigating the potential risks of use of glyphosate and other harmful chemical pesticides in its ingredients.
General Mills’ failure to investigate the use of glyphosate-based weedkillers and other pesticides in its supply chains creates risk for the company. In the past year, juries in two trials have found that exposure to glyphosate-based Roundup caused individuals’ cancer, resulting in multimillion dollar damage awards, a decline in Bayer share price, and a flood of new lawsuits against Monsanto and manufacturers of foods containing residues of the chemical. Consumers have targeted General Mills with such legal action.
Regulatory attention to glyphosate is also growing. Jurisdictions in 25 countries have banned or restricted glyphosate use, or are considering action. A petition has been filed at the Environmental Protection Agency to sharply reduce the federal allowable level for residual glyphosate on oats and to prohibit its use as a pre-harvest drying agent. A House bill is pending with similar provisions.
General Mills has a publicly stated goal to sustainably source 100 percent of its top 10 priority ingredients by 2020. However, its sustainability metrics do not include use of toxic pesticides. Failure to include toxic pesticides as a component of its sustainable sourcing program represents a harmful oversight.
General Mills recently announced it is advancing regenerative agriculture practices with farmers on a million acres of farmland by 2030. It is unclear whether this initiative will mitigate risks related to the use of pre-harvest glyphosate or address the broader risks of reliance on synthetic pesticides in conventional crop supply chains.
To demonstrate the company is adequately addressing the risks associated with the use of chemical pesticides on supplier farms, it is vital that General Mills increase its disclosures to shareholders.
RESOLVED: Shareholders request General Mills disclose quantitative metrics demonstrating measurable progress toward the reduction of synthetic chemical pesticide use in the Company’s supply chain.
SUPPORTING STATEMENT: At Board discretion, we recommend the report include:
• Metrics tracking the proportion of supply chain crops treated with chemical pesticides
• Targets for the reduction of pesticide use over time
• Data on pre-harvest use of glyphosate
• Goals for expansion of the company’s Regenerative Agriculture program to all crop suppliers, especially conventional (i.e. nonorganic) crop suppliers