GMO Debate Dominates General Mills Shareholder Meeting
On behalf of Green America, I attended General Mills’ annual shareholder meeting this morning. Green America holds a handful of shares so that we can have a voice as shareholders.
The topic of genetically engineered organisms (GMOs) dominated the discussion, with Green America allies and me asking several questions about General Mills’ continued defense of GMOs in the face of growing public opposition. While Ken Powell repeated last year’s rhetoric that GMOs have been proven safe by several international organizations and that General Mills supports national labeling of non-GMO products (as opposed to those with GMOs), many shareholders in the audience were on a different page. Numerous individual shareholders voiced their concerns about GMOs and called for sustainable and safe ingredients. As one shareholder put it, General Mills should “keep an open mind, please” about not using GMO ingredients.
In addition to GMOs being a topic during the Q&A portion of the meeting, there was also a shareholder resolution to eliminate GMOs from General Mills’ products brought forth by As You Sow and supported by Harriet Crosby, great granddaughter of one of the co-founders of General Mills. Though the resolution won’t earn a majority of votes (as is often the case) and all votes are not in yet, the preliminary votes in favor of the resolution amount to shares worth $682 million.
Continuing Green America’s GMO Inside campaign’s request for General Mills to verify original Cheerios as non-GMO with a third-party, we asked Ken Powell directly why they are not doing so. Powell replied that if they say it’s non-GMO, then it is. What about removing GMOs from the other varieties of Cheerios? Powell answered that oats, the only main ingredient in original Cheerios, is not genetically engineered so that’s why they were able to make original Cheerios non-GMO (though at the time, General Mills stated that it was a huge undertaking). They won’t even bother trying to remove GMOs from the other varieties.
General Mills did speak to their efforts to reduce energy usage, water usage, and greenhouse gas emissions as well as their work with suppliers to develop more sustainable agricultural practices. We look forward to seeing the results of these efforts. I encouraged General Mills to include the reduction of pesticides (as well as the removal of GMOs) as a key component of improving sustainability.
The acquisition of Annie’s was also mentioned, with General Mills acknowledging the company meets consumer demand for natural and organic products and will further help General Mills’ other organic/natural lines. General Mills also admitted that it is their organic lines that are growing most rapidly, which again raises the question of why they don’t increase the use of organics across their brands.
So the conversation for more sustainable, less toxic, truly natural products continues.
– Shireen Karimi, Green America staff