Say “cheerio” to the bees!
by Colleen Burns
In early March everyone’s favorite whole grain cereal, Cheerios, launched a new campaign called #BringBacktheBees, responding to the sudden and extreme decline in bee populations. Just last October, seven species of the Hawaiian yellow-faced bee were added to the endangered species list, and the bumblebee joined the list for the first time in January.
First, Cheerios said goodbye to the adored Buzz the Bee to raise awareness since “44% of bee colonies in the U.S. collapsed in 2016.” Cheerios also reminded consumers that the bees play an essential role in the world’s food systems, as “1 in 3 bites of food we eat is made possible by bees and other pollinators” and “more than two thirds of the world’s crop species rely on pollinators.”
The campaign centered on a 100 Million Seed Giveaway, which urged the public to sign up to receive packets of wildflowers to provide bees with nectar. While the goal was 100 million seeds, Cheerios ended up giving away 1.5 billion seeds, completely depleting their seed supply and subsequently halting their give-away campaign.
However, recent controversy has arisen around the types of seeds in Cheerios’ packets and their potential invasiveness. Invasive species can overshadow the native species because there are no natural controls on their population. Invasive species also grow unchecked and thus take up excessive space, deplete important resources, and spread disease.
Cheerios claims that the wildflower packets “contain the same varieties of seeds that consumers will find in seed racks at major national home store chains throughout the U.S.” However, the company reported that forget-me-nots and California poppy are included in the wildflower seed mix. Forget-me-nots are a banned, noxious weed in Massachusetts and Connecticut while California poppy is considered an invasive species in the southeast.
Clearly, some seeds are only native to certain parts of the country. Cheerios posted on Facebook, “The seed varieties in the mix are not considered invasive” and “flower varieties within the Bee Friendlier Mix were selected for their flowers which produce nectar and pollen that are attractive to bees and other pollinators.” Perhaps Cheerios is sending state tailored seed mixes, but they have not confirmed this.
The company also plans to build new bee habitats on their oat farms by hosting “about 3,300 acres of nectar- and pollen-rich wildflowers, which are full of the nutrients bees and other pollinators need to stay strong.” While this part of the campaign seems progressive and beneficial, others question it.
Here’s why: Cheerios is likely guilty of contributing to some of the issues plaguing bee populations because Cheerios’ oat farms are monocultures.
Monocultures, or land farmed for hundreds of miles with a single crop, cause a decline in bee habitats for various reasons. One: monocultures are a single crop so, the entire field blooms at the same time, providing food for a short time (unlike mixed wildflowers). Two: having only one type of pollen as a food source can lead to nutrient deficiencies and poor immune systems. Three: monocultures require intense pesticide use, since a single insect infestation could wipe out the entire crop. These pesticides can be toxic to the bees themselves and to the wildflowers they snack on.
Therefore, it’s ironic that a company like Cheerios has a #BringBacktheBees campaign when they likely implement practices that contribute to the endangerment of bees in the first place. Even putting this aside, Cheerios did not take the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of invasive species.
While the campaign was in good heart, it might be safer to plant wildflowers bought at your local store. This way you are guaranteed to be planting native wildflowers that bloom at all different times throughout the summer—and layoff the pesticides!