An executive of the Italy-based pasta maker Barilla has apologised for hurting anyone's "sensitivity" after saying the company would never feature gay families in its advertisements.
Chairman Guido Barilla, in an Italian radio interview on Wednesday, rejected the idea of using gay families in advertising, as some other companies have done, saying Barilla envisions a "classic family".
"For us the concept of the sacred family remains one of the basic values of the company," he told Italy's Radio24.
"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. I don't see things like they do and I think the family that we speak to is a classic family."
When the interviewer rightly anticipated a backlash to the comments, Barilla replied: "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."
The comments came in response to calls by politician Laura Boldrini, president of the Chamber of Deputies of Italy (the speaker of the Italian lower house of parliament), to alter the image of families in Italian advertisements that portray mothers serving food to fathers and children.
A signficiant number of Barilla's commercials depict heterosexual parents with children gathered for breakfast or dinner.
Gay activists in Italy took to Twitter to protest Barilla's comments, calling for a boycott on his company's products, which include cookies and bread in addition to pasta, using the hashtag #boicotta-barilla.
Some accused Barilla of being deliberately provocative.
Barilla's own advertisments were reversioned by protestors to make their point, with the backlash spreading around the world.
Barilla himself issued an apology through the company on Thursday.
"I apologise if my words have generated controversy or misunderstanding, or if they hurt someone's sensitivity," he said in a statement.
He said he supports gay marriages but not adoption since it would be "complicated" for same-sex couples to raise children.
He reiterated his backing for gay marriage, but insisted that traditional families have always been "identified" with the Barilla brand.
On Friday the United States arm of the pasta brand was moved to distance themselves from the comments and separately apologise via their official Twitter account.
- Sydney Morning Herald