Nearly one-third of General Mills shareholders seek more accounting on pesticides in supply chain
A group of environmentally-minded investors persuaded about one-third of General Mills’ voting shareholders to support a proposal aimed at eliminating pesticide use from the company’s supply chain.
The investors — Green Century Equity Fund, a mutual fund of Green Century Capital Management Inc., and As You Sow, a nonprofit group — sought to require the company’s board of directors to regularly publish reports on the use of certain pesticides by General Mills’ suppliers.
The investors pointed to the company’s publicly-declared commitment to improving pollinator populations, citing new evidence that some insecticides and herbicides have been linked to a decline in bee survival rates.
The vote occurred at the company’s annual shareholder meeting, which was held Tuesday in downtown Minneapolis. The meeting was closed to the public. Christy Spees, environmental health program manager at As You Sow, said the proposal received 31 percent shareholder support. “Shareholders believe the company can, and should, do more to protect the health of their supply chain and the public from toxic pesticides,” she said.
Kyle Kempf, a spokesman for Green Century Equity Fund, said the firm was “very pleased” with the vote.
Green Century and As You Sow highlighted research published last year in the peer-reviewed journal Science that found certain insecticides have a negative effects on the reproduction in both honeybees and wild bees.
General Mills opposed the proposal in its proxy statement — recommending shareholders vote against it — citing the company’s existing $2-million commitment to restoring pollinator habitat and its financial support for additional research on the issue. In the proxy, the company’s board said, “Healthy and abundant bee populations and pollinators are a priority for General Mills.”
A General Mills spokeswoman on Wednesday said that, since 2011, the company has given $6 million to support pollinator and research efforts.
In their proposal, Green Century and As You Sow said, “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 its response in the proxy, the board said the proposal would not be a good use of company resources and cited the firm’s funding a five-year pollinator project with the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, its grant to University of Minnesota Bee Lab to support its research on factors impacting bee health and its partnership with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service on pollinator habitat restoration.
Kristen Leigh Painter • 612-673-4767