Food News

There's Just One Problem with That Cheerios Bee-Saving Campaign

March 21, 2017

Last week, I reported on the new Cheerios campaign aimed to tame the problem of America’s rapidly-downsizing honeybee population. General Mills had removed Cheerios’ beloved mascot, Buzz the Bee, from cereal boxes to draw attention to this issue. That cosmetic change was tied to a larger campaign, #BringBacktheBees, that involved General Mills mailing consumers packets of wildflower seeds across the United States and Canada. The mix contained nearly twenty different wildflower varieties, from daisies to lavender to hyssop to sweet alyssum.

Since I wrote that article, Cheerios had far exceeded its goal, giving away over 1.5 billion seeds. The campaign seemed totally innocuous, right? A missing mascot for a just, noble mission. As I read about it, I was cautiously optimistic, at the very least.

Little did I know there was, er, a problem: Some of the seeds in these packets are considered invasive species in certain regions. A few days back, the folks at Lifehacker unearthed a serious lapse in Cheerios’ judgment. The mix of wildflower seeds they were sending folks weren’t regionally-specific. The Chinese Forget-Me-Not has a gnarly classification as a noxious weed in Massachusetts and Connecticut; the California Poppy isn’t so poppy for the Southeast United States. When these species are ushered into new, non-native environments, ecologist Kathryn Turner told Lifehacker, they risk out-competing species that belong there and depleting crucial resources.

Lifehacker’s report was fair and responsibly critical, assuming a tone that understood General Mills’ intentions rather than lambasting them wholesale for a bungled campaign. General Mills has gone on the defense, though, shooting back at critics with the justification that the seed mixes are not, in fact, invasive. Hm.

Where is the truth? Lifehacker rounds out its article by outlining a better way to mitigate the problem that Cheerios is trying to solve. It recommends consumers order seeds directly from a manufacturer that provides locally-customized seed mixes, along with thorough, reliable guides on how to plant seeds tailored to a given region’s needs. (The site for Xerces, the company that Lifehacker cites, unfortunately seems to be down at the moment.) So, a word of caution, and a partial mea culpa: If you've gotten seeds from Cheerios, apply a dose of suspicion, and make sure you aren't unknowingly introducing more harm than good.

See any other problems with Cheerios' #BringBacktheBees campaign? Let us know in the comments.

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10 Comments

Alan S. March 25, 2017
This info should have been included in the post on Facebook, not used as clickbait. That makes you as irresponsible, if not more so, than Cheerios.
 
Gibson2011 March 22, 2017
You can check https://plants.usda.gov/java/noxiousDriver to see the noxious/invasive weeds and plants for your state.
 
Whiteantlers March 21, 2017
Thanks for the follow up. I have to wonder how many of those seed packets would have really been used.
 
Lorie March 21, 2017
This goes under the saying : "No good deed, Goes unpunished. "
 
Lorie March 21, 2017
This goes under the saying : "No good deed, Goes unpunished. "
 
Lorie March 21, 2017
This goes under the saying : "No good deed, Goes unpunished. "
 
BerryBaby March 21, 2017
We have TONS of honey bees which I attribute to planting native plants. Most of the plants are evergreens that produce flowers for the bees and hummingbirds then turn to berries for the birds sns squirrels. Check with you local nursery to locate the best bee attracting plants for your zone. BB
 
Scott March 21, 2017
The seed company providing seeds for this project is Vesey's Seeds of York, Prince Edward Island. This is their response to this article on their Facebook page:<br /><br />The Bee Feed Wildflower mix is composed of annuals and perennials that will bloom all season long. It has been field-tested and is known to attract honey bees, bumble bees, and other native bees such as mining bees, leaf cutter bees, sweet bees and long-horned bees. Bees will forage on the nectar and pollen, which provide needed carbohydrates and protein. Well-nourished bees are more capable of fending off diseases and parasites. The mix includes Annual Forget-Me-Nots (not the invasive Perennial type), Siberian Wallflower, Orange California Poppy, Purple Coneflower, Single Mix China Aster, Corn Poppy, Lance leaved Coreopsis, Blue Flax, Baby Blue-Eyes, Globe Gilia, Indian Blanket, Tidy-Tips, Plains Coreopsis, Tall White Sweet Alyssum, Lavender Hyssop, Fleabane Daisy, Forget-Me-Not, New England Aster, Bergamot. The flower varieties were selected for their flowers which produce nectar and pollen that are attractive to bees and other pollinators. The mixture contains annuals, biennials, and perennials that produce flowers throughout the entire growing season (early, mid, and late) in a wide range of colours.<br /><br />In most locations, the seed mixture species will be non-native but not considered invasive. (To be invasive; a species has to be non-native, have the tendency to spread and threaten the environmental, economic or social health of an area.) Some species within the mixture have the potential to become naturalized, adding to the bio-diversity of the area without negatively impacting the environment. When producing these wildflower mixes we ensure that we comply with the seed purity requirements of the Canadian Seed act, and that all of the seeds that we carry would be below the national threshold for prohibited, primary and secondary noxious weeds as defined by the seed act. This is a Canada wide regulation.
 
Scott March 21, 2017
The seed company providing seeds for this project is Vesey's Seeds of York, Prince Edward Island. This is their response to this article on their Facebook page:<br /><br />The Bee Feed Wildflower mix is composed of annuals and perennials that will bloom all season long. It has been field-tested and is known to attract honey bees, bumble bees, and other native bees such as mining bees, leaf cutter bees, sweet bees and long-horned bees. Bees will forage on the nectar and pollen, which provide needed carbohydrates and protein. Well-nourished bees are more capable of fending off diseases and parasites. The mix includes Annual Forget-Me-Nots (not the invasive Perennial type), Siberian Wallflower, Orange California Poppy, Purple Coneflower, Single Mix China Aster, Corn Poppy, Lance leaved Coreopsis, Blue Flax, Baby Blue-Eyes, Globe Gilia, Indian Blanket, Tidy-Tips, Plains Coreopsis, Tall White Sweet Alyssum, Lavender Hyssop, Fleabane Daisy, Forget-Me-Not, New England Aster, Bergamot. The flower varieties were selected for their flowers which produce nectar and pollen that are attractive to bees and other pollinators. The mixture contains annuals, biennials, and perennials that produce flowers throughout the entire growing season (early, mid, and late) in a wide range of colours.<br /><br />In most locations, the seed mixture species will be non-native but not considered invasive. (To be invasive; a species has to be non-native, have the tendency to spread and threaten the environmental, economic or social health of an area.) Some species within the mixture have the potential to become naturalized, adding to the bio-diversity of the area without negatively impacting the environment. When producing these wildflower mixes we ensure that we comply with the seed purity requirements of the Canadian Seed act, and that all of the seeds that we carry would be below the national threshold for prohibited, primary and secondary noxious weeds as defined by the seed act. This is a Canada wide regulation.
 
Kaite March 21, 2017
Aha! I tried looking for that information as soon as I heard about their campaign. I had my suspicions that there were probably some offenders in that mix. I have done field work in controlling invasive plant species and have witnessed how bad things can get. I don't think people realize the full extent of the damage invasive plants can do. Thanks for the follow up.