General Mills steps up DC lobbying as Congress considers food policy
By Emma Loop
WASHINGTON — The Minnesota-based food manufacturing giant best known for its sugary cereals and snacks is slowly expanding its lobbying efforts in the nation’s capital as a Democratic-led Congress reviews sweeping food policy legislation.
General Mills spent $360,000 on lobbying in the first quarter of this year — nearly half of what it spent in all of 2021, and more than half of what it spent in the three years prior, according to public disclosures.
This year, the company also doubled the number of lobbyists representing its interests in Washington from three to six. Among them are veteran Democrats with ties to Capitol Hill and the Obama administration.
The numbers suggest General Mills is bolstering its state lobbying operation after years of reduced activity, and come as D.C. lawmakers craft a food and agriculture bill that will set policy for years to come and spend hundreds of billions of dollars.
What is the point of lobbying? Hard to say. A spokesperson for the company declined to answer specific questions about the lobbying.
But one likely target: Congressional committees have already begun holding hearings on the Farm Bill, which lawmakers must approve every five years and covers everything from crop insurance to food assistance programs. The last Farm Bill was passed in 2018, which means Congress is working to pass a new one for 2023.
General Mills reported spending $330,000 on internal lobbying in the first quarter of the year, and a similar amount at the end of last year. This lobbying effort targeted the United States House and Senate, as well as the Department of Agriculture and Commerce, and involved a variety of issues, including “regenerative agriculture to mitigate climate change” and “anti-dumping duties on raw honey.”
General Mills has also used both its internal operations and a new outside firm to lobby Congress and the USDA on federal nutrition programs. That firm, Washington-based Olsson, Frank, Weeda, Terman & Matz, PC, reported earning $30,000 lobbying for General Mills on “[h]health and nutrition standards in food assistance programs” in the first quarter of the year, and recently reported an additional $40,000 in revenue for the second quarter.
The firm, which specializes in the food and agriculture industry, lists three of the lobbyists representing General Mills. One of them is Phil Karsting, who served as head of the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service under former President Barack Obama and supported President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign. Another lobbyist, Roger Szemraj, worked as an aide to Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur on the powerful House Appropriations Committee and lists Farm Bills and food assistance programs as areas of expertise.
A General Mills spokesperson provided a link to a “civic engagement” page on its website. This page lists some past lobbying efforts, including “[s]supports strong US school nutrition standards, including encouraging the USDA to balance meal program flexibility and efficiency while ensuring Dietary Guidelines recommendations are followed, particularly related to whole-grain offerings” and “[s]promotes flexibility in USDA food and nutrition programs to ensure full access to benefits […] during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Representatives of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, which handle the Farm Bill, did not respond to requests for comment.
Until the recent uptick, General Mills’ lobbying efforts appeared to be tapering off after a peak in 2014, when it spent more than $2.7 million on lobbying efforts. It had spent millions on lobbying in the previous two years, and in 2012 had 11 lobbyists.
Around that time, General Mills appears to have seen a significant decline in its business with the federal government. Until 2012, the company took in about $200 million each year from the Department of Defense for food.
In 2011, the US officially ended the war in Iraq, which at its peak saw more than 150,000 US troops stationed in the country.
Here’s a look at General Mills and lobbying in 2022:
Here are the people who lobbied the federal government for General Mills in 2022, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics and lobbying forms:
Money for Congress
Here are the top 10 federal recipients of campaign cash from General Mills’ political action committee or company employees who give $200 or more, according to the Center for Responsive Politics:
- Stand for America PAC: $5,000
- Rep. Angie Craig D-Minn.: $3,510
- Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn.: $2,760
- Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Az.: $2,500
- Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill.: $2,500
- Candidate Brent Centers, R-Ohio: $2,500
- Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Mich.: $2,500
- Rep. Brian Higgins, DN.Y.: $2,500
- DNC Services Corp: $1,952
- National Republican Senatorial Committee: $1,784
Here’s the party breakdown of federal recipients of campaign cash from General Mills’ political action committee or company employees who give $200 or more, according to the Center for Responsive Politics:
About this story
The Author: Emma Loop is a Washington, DC-based freelance reporter focusing on national security, finance and politics. She has worked at the Windsor Star, Ottawa Citizen and BuzzFeed News, where she was a member of the FinCEN Files reporting team that was named a finalist for the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting.
This story was originally published by the Minnesota Reformer. It’s part of an occasional series looking at Minnesota companies’ lobbying in Washington. Previous editions have included 3M and Cargill.
The Minnesota Reformer is part of States Newsroom, a network of news agencies supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. The Minnesota Reformer maintains editorial independence. Contact editor Patrick Coolican with questions: [email protected]. Follow Minnesota Reformer on Facebook and Twitter.