The head of the Italian food group Barilla, Guido Barilla, poses during a press conference at the foreign press club on December 11, 2012 in Rome. AFP PHOTO / GETTY IMAGES / GABRIEL BOUYS
The president of Italy-based Barilla, the world's largest pasta producer, sparked a boycott of his famed firm Thursday after saying he would not show gay families in the firm's ads.
"I would never make a spot with a homosexual family," Guido Barilla said on the Italy radio program La Zanzara (The Mosquito), according to Italian news agency ANSA. "Not out of a lack of respect but because I do not see it like they do. (My idea of) family is a classic family where the woman has a fundamental role."
ANSA reported that when the show's hosts noted that gays and lesbians eat pasta, Barilla responded, "That's fine if they like our pasta and our communication, they can eat them. Otherwise, they can eat another pasta."
Barilla, who with his brothers Luca and Paolo represent the fourth generation running the family-owned firm founded in 1877, also said, "I respect everyone who does what they want to do without bothering others," ANSA reported. He said he supported gay marriage "but not adoption in gay families."
"As a father of multiple children, I believe it's very hard to raise kids in a same-sex couple," Barilla said, according to ANSA.
Gay-rights organizations quickly adopted his suggestion - even though Barilla posted a "clarification on gays" message on his company's website apologizing "if my words have generated controversy or misunderstanding, or if they hurt someone's sensitivity."
"We accept his invitation to not eat his pasta," said Aurelio Mancuso, president of gay-rights group Equality Italia, ANSA reported
"Here we have another example of homophobia, Italian style," said Alessandro Zan, an Italian parliament member with the left-wing SEL party, ANSA reported.
The controversy quickly spread internationally via Twitter, where the hashtags #boicottabarilla and #boycottbarilla prompted numerous tweets.
Playing off an ad that said "with a bowl of pasta in hand, life is good," @ReignofApril tweeted, "Unless you're gay, amirite?"
"I prefer my pasta bigotry-free and served with a nice Cabernet," tweeted @4lisaguerreo.
GLAAD, an advocacy group for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people, plans to contact U.S. supermarket chains and ask officials to speak out against Barilla's comments and in support of their own LGBT consumers, said Rich Ferraro, the group's vice president of communications.
Ferraro said GLAAD had also e-mailed Barilla an invitation to meet with LGBT community members "and get to know how traditional we really are." Ferraro's mother, Linda, launched a Change.org petition urging her neighborhood supermarket to drop Barilla from its shelves, said Ferraro.
According to the Barilla Group's website, the company employs more than 8,000 workers, owns 30 production sites and has 13 brands. The firm's factories each year produce 1.7 million tons of food products distributed to 100 countries under names that include Barilla, Mulino Bianco, Wasa, Vesta, Gran Cereale and others.
The Barilla controversy comes three months after Dan Cathy, president of Atlanta-based food chain Chick-fil-A, used Twitter to voice his opposition to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act.
"Sad day for our nation; founding fathers would be ashamed of our gen. to abandon wisdom of the ages re: cornerstone of strong societies," Cathy wrote in a tweet that was later deleted.
USA TODAY reported earlier this month that Chick-fil-A appeared to be offering a moderated view.
"Our intent is not to support political or social agendas," said Steve Robinson, the firm's executive vice president for marketing. He added that the company's culture "is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect - regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender."