As many of you may know, the food products on the shelves of giant supermarkets (Walmart, Target, Weis) are owned by a very small number of companies. General Mills (GM) owns many of our favorite brands: Haagen Dazs, Yoplait, and Cheerios. Since it is well-known brand that we see and eat so often, we are more likely to trust it and associate the name with quality. However this isn’t always the case.
On General Mills website, there is a Responsibility section that includes subsections on Communities, Diversity and Inclusion, Environment, Ethics and Integrity, Marketing and Advertising, Sustainable Sourcing, Workplace, and Global Responsibility. In terms of Food Safety, the company states “We are proud to be a global leader in advancing food safety. We also believe that every consumer has every right to expect their food to be safe.” With that being said, clearly General Mills wants to present itself as a very ethical company. But in 2012, General List failed to make Ethisphere’s list of World’s Most Ethical Company. Here are a few reasons. Along with many other companies, General Mills has been using the term “natural” to its advantage. The term “natural” has no legal definition; therefore many companies have used it liberally and abundantly. It was until late 2014, in a lawsuit settlement that company agreed to stop labeling 20 products as “natural.” In addition, from now GM will not use it on products that have more than .9% of synthetically made or GMO ingredients. (In a survey conducted 50% of Americans believe that the labeling “natural” actually means free of GMOs and synthetic ingredients.) This is a step in the right direction as an ethical company.
Just this month (March, 2015), General Mills found itself in a class action lawsuit for dumping 15,000 gallons of carcinogenic solvents in the air and water. The citizens claimed that the company’s dumped trichloroethylene in the area surrounding its facility in Minneapolis. As writer Christina Sarich puts it, “General Mills makes hundreds of foods that most Americans are used to eating on a daily basis, but the company obviously has little concern for the health of the mouths they make millions from.”
As discussed in class, there are many transparency issues surrounding the Food Industry and clearly, General Mills is no exception. However in comparison to the brutalities in Food Inc., what General Mills has done seems almost innocent. Except it is really not. Millions of Americans pay for GM products expecting quality and some transparency about the goods. So, who is to blame? The customers who continuously buy GM’s product, and in turn funding the problem, OR General Mills that says “every consumer has every right to expect their food to be safe?”