Gay rights activists in Italy have launched a boycott of the world's leading pasta maker after its chairman said he would only portray the "classic family" in his advertisements and, if people objected, they should feel free to eat a different kind of pasta.
Guido Barilla, who controls the fourth-generation Barilla Group business with his two brothers, sparked outrage when he said he would not consider using a gay family to advertise his pasta.
"For us the concept of the sacred family remains one of the basic values of the company," he told Italian radio on Wednesday evening. "I would not do it but not out of a lack of respect for homosexuals, who have the right to do what they want without bothering others ... [but] I don't see things like they do and I think the family that we speak to is a classic family."
Asked what effect he thought his attitude would have on gay consumers of pasta, Barilla said: "Well, if they like our pasta and our message they will eat it; if they don't like it and they don't like what we say they will ... eat another."
In response, Aurelio Mancuso, chairman of Equality Italia, accused Barilla of being deliberately provocative on the issue. "Accepting the invitation of Barilla's owner to not eat his pasta, we are launching a boycott campaign against all his products," he added.
Within hours, the hashtag boicotta-barilla was trending on Twitter. The Barilla chairman issued a statement saying that he was sorry if his remarks had caused offence and that he had only been trying to draw attention to the "central role" played by women within the family.
The interview started by asking Barilla what he thought of an appeal made on Tuesday by the speaker of the lower house of parliament, Laura Boldrini, to change the often stereotypical image of women in Italian advertisements.
"There are some adverts ... which, when I see them, I think, but would this advert be broadcast in other countries?" said Boldrini. "And the answer is certainly not. An advert in which the children and father are all sitting down and the mother is serving at the table cannot be accepted as normal."
Barilla said Boldrini did not understand advertising.