Cheerios gave away 1.5 billion wildflower seeds to save the bees

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Image: Sam Greenwood/ Getty Images

Cheerios’ recent campaign to give away flower seeds was both wildly popular and , no surprise, controversial.

General Mills, producer of the O-shaped oat cereal, said it initially planned to dole out 100 million wildflower seeds to customers who requested them.

The goal? Boost the ranks of North America’s imperiled bees. Cheerio instead presented away 1.5 billion seeds, depleting its entire stockpile.

“In one week, the campaign not only reached its aim, but outperformed it by an un-bee-lievable sum, ” the company announced on March 17, inducing a universal groan.

Cheerios spurred the seed recipients to plant wildflowers in their backyards to provide more nectar and pollen for bumblebees, honeybees and other striving species.

As pollinators, bees play a crucial role in holding our ecosystems and helping flowers and food crops thrive and reproduce.

Yet in Northern america, bees have suffered staggering losses in the past decades because of the abundant use of pesticides, the spread of parasites and habitat loss from industrial agriculture and expanding real estate.

Seven of Hawaii’s yellow-faced bee species are officially rostered as imperiled. On the two sides of the strait U.S ., the rusty patch bumblebee was supposed to be added to the endangered species list in February until the Trump administration ordered a temporary suspension on brand-new federal regulations, delaying the bee’s listing.

In recent days, some bee experts have praised Cheerios’ wildflower campaign, while others said they worried it could do more harm than good.

“I think that any time we can toss out some seeds for budding flowers that bees like, we should do it, ” Gordon Frankie, an entomology professor at University of California, Berkeley, told the website Snopes. “Bees need all the help they can get, ” he said.

Critics, by contrast, urged members of the public to dump their seeds in a trash can not a garden for fear that the packets contain invasive wildflowers that could overtake native species and spread disease.

Kathryn Turner, an ecologist who specializes in invasive flowers, told LifeHacker she was worried about Cheerios’ approach.

“Context is important, ” she told the website. “No plant is inherently ‘bad, ‘ but many species can and have caused a great deal of damage when they are introduced into sites outside of their native range.”

Speaking of wildflowers, check out California’s ‘super bloom’ in this March 16, 2017 photo.

Image: david mcnew/ Getty Images

Cheerios countered those concerns on Facebook, explaining the seed assortments in its Bee Friendlier Mix “are not considered invasive.” The assortments “were selected for their flowers which produce nectar and pollen that are attractive to bees and other pollinators, ” the cereal producer said in reply to worried commenters.

Other Cheerio haters have said it’s uncanny that General Mills is clamoring to “bring back the bees” while sourcing its oats from farms that use Monsanto’s RoundUp. The herbicide, like other industrial chemicals, is suspected of contributing to bee population declines.

Last fall, a study by Food Democracy Now! was pointed out that RoundUp was used in fields where crops for popular packed meat are grown. Lab exams found residues of the herbicide’s active ingredient, glyphosate, in original and Honey Nut Cheerios, Doritos, Oreos, Fritos and other grain-based snacks.

Cheerios; Honey Nut.

Image: joe raedle/ Getty Images

“Pretending to be concerned about the environment when you are buying oats that have been sprayed with glyphosate doesn’t clown anyone, ” a critic recount Cheerios on Facebook.

We still don’t know exactly how the compound affects bees, just as scientists still aren’t sure if glyphosate is harmful to humans. A 2015 survey in the Journal of Economic Entomology supposed glyphosate and two other chemicals “have very minor or no acute toxicity to honey bees.”

However, pesticides in general can harm the societies of bees by reducing ecosystems to a few flowers and erasing the abundance of pollen and nectar. That’s true-blue not only of industrial farms but also our own gardens, suburban sceneries and recreational areas.

Image: david mcnew/ Getty Images

“Insecticides, by design, kill bugs and herbicides reduce floral diversity, ” Xerces Society, a nonprofit preservation organization, said in its guidebook for conserving bumblebees.

Fortunately, environmental groups have plenty of tips for how to help bee species across the country.

The National Wildlife Federation recommends planting native, pollen-producing flowers in your garden and evading pesticides wholly. With Bumble Bee Watch, citizen scientists can report bee sightings in their backyards to help provide information on the population and geography.

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