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General Mills' Big Sustainable Sourcing Commitment

Words by Jan Lee

In keeping with the growing focus on sustainable harvesting and production, General Mills (GM) announced yesterday that it will be making changes to how it harvests and packages 10 of the top ingredients it uses in its cereals and other products.

According to a recent announcement, the company has set a goal to “sustainably source 100 percent of its 10 priority ingredients by 2020. These ingredients represent 50 percent of General Mills’ total raw material purchases. The commitment builds on the company’s sustainability mission to conserve and protect the resources upon which its business depends.”

Ken Powell, chief executive officer for GM noted the challenges ahead in creating enough food for global populations, and at the same time, doing so sustainably.

“General Mills is committed to creating long-term value for our business, and our society,” he said. “Producing enough food to feed an increasingly hungry world will require not only innovation and dedication, but also careful attention to the impact of agriculture on our environment.”

According to GM, two thirds of the company’s carbon emissions and more than 90 percent of its water usage occur in the supply chain that supports its facilities. Therefore, the comapany says it will be “working with industry partners and non-governmental agencies across the supply chain to identify new solutions.” GM says it has also been working with environmental group World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to identify ways to integrate sustainable concepts into the processes that support its manufacturing facilities.

The ten primary ingredients that GM intends to source sustainably are: wheat, corn, oats, dairy products, cocoa, vanilla, palm oil, sugar from both sugar cane and beets and fiber packaging. It intends to switch its packaging sources to recycled products that do not contribute to deforestation. “Any high regions will be independently verified,” it said.

The company says it also plans to focus on ingredient sources that will help to support improvements in small farmer incomes and working conditions, as well as the environment. Some of its sustainable sourcing changes will be independently verified. Its sustainable dairy ingredients will be verified through outside sources in the U.S. “or other comparable environmental metrics (globally).”

The company says it will also enforce an animal welfare policy for all animal-based products and sources, including pork, chicken, eggs and milk, with an emphasis on policies regarding antibiotic use and animal testing procedures. This commitment is in line with a four-step process it started in 2011 when it began partnering with WWF to identify supply risks in the food sources it buys globally.

“This assessment prioritized raw materials which were analyzed against dozens of potential risk categories such as human rights, deforestation, economic sustainability, fertilizer (nitrogen) use, GHG emissions, soil loss, water quality and water use. In addition, the company worked with the Rainforest Alliance to assess fiber sourcing,” the company said.

The company affirmed that will continue to monitor and evaluate its progress through third-party auditors as it moves toward its goal of 100 percent sustainable sourcing by 2020.

GM did not say whether it plans to make any changes to its policy of using genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in its food production as part of its sustainable ingredient sourcing commitment.

General Mills has taken other steps in the past to support sustainable measures, such as adopting or supporting renewable energy efforts in local communities. The company maintains that its ongoing changes in ingredient sourcing are in line with its commitment to "continually reduce (its) environmental footprint."

The photo of General Mills Cheerios courtesy of Conrad Irwin

Jan Lee headshotJan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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