General Mills sustainability chief: Healthy food needs healthy soil

General Mills executive Jerry Lynch says his company is out to do something that sounds simple: Make food that people love.

“We take the output of Mother Nature and farming communities, we transform it into products for consumers to get the nutrition they want in the midst of their busy lives, and we market it to them,” he said.

But as the global food giant’s chief sustainability officer, Lynch is watching that process, from farm to package to table, very closely. And what he sees, he told agribusiness and food industry leaders gathered in Minneapolis on Thursday, concerns him.

“If the front end of that engine — Mother Nature and farming communities — starts to break down, our business becomes either really expensive to operate, or sometimes impossible to operate because we can’t get what we need in order to make those products,” he said.

What he’s talking about: Climate change. Soil erosion and degradation. Extreme weather events that wipe out crops.

Healthy soil, Lynch said, can help with all of those problems: It stores carbon. It has microbes that make nutrients more available to plants, helping them grow. And healthy soil is sponge-like; it can absorb and hold water rather than letting it run off the land.

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