In just one week, General Mills’ Cheerios brand gave away more than ten times its original goal of 100 million wildflower seeds as part of a promotion to bring awareness to the plight of bees (its Honey Nut cereal mascot, Buzz, is a honeybee).
“Honey Nut Cheerios will send more than 1.5 billion seeds to people who requested wildflower seeds to join the effort to #BringBackTheBees,” the company said on its website.
But instead of praise, bee experts are warning the millions of seed recipients not to plant the seeds for fear of spreading non-native plants, some of which are even banned in parts of the U.S.
According to General Mills, its “Save the Bees” campaign was distributing the seeds to help attract threatened pollinators. Bee populations around the world are struggling in recent years as use of harmful pesticides and herbicides have been linked to a condition called colony collapse disorder, where bees become disoriented, abandon their hives, and in many cases, die prematurely.
While the scientific community is still divided on what specifically is at the root of the condition, the EU pointed to a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids for the sharp decline in bee colonies. Late last year, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service added seven Hawaiian bee species to the Endangered Species list, and in January, a mainland pollinator, the rusty patched bumble bee was also added to the list.
General Mills said its mix of wildflower seeds which included asters, bergamot, forget-me-nots, poppies, daisies, and lavender, were all specifically chosen “to attract bees,” and “are not considered invasive.” But according to Lifehacker, that’s not entirely true.
“Forget-me-not is banned as a noxious weed in Massachusetts and Connecticut,” the site explains. “The California poppy is nice in California, but listed as an ‘invasive exotic pest plant’ in southeastern states. And many of the flowers on this list are not native to anywhere in the US, so they are not necessarily good matches for our local bees.”
Now, experts are warning seed recipients to ditch the wildflower seeds, especially since the General Mills interactive website shows most of the seed recipients are in the regions where the wildflowers should not be planted, according to Lifehacker.
The site also warns that not all bees are honeybees, and some flowers are not supportive of other species, such as bumblebees.
And then there’s the issue of Cheerios samples recently testing positive for Monsanto’s Roundup, the prolific herbicide that contains glyphosate, which has also been linked to declining bee populations.
In addition to the free seed campaign, Cheerios participated in an event over the weekend called FLEUROTICA in Chicago, revealing floral dress designs from Melinda Whitmore; and in Canada, the brand pulled a publicity stunt called “Grocery Store of the Future” where more than one-third of supermarket food items were pulled from shelves to highlight the contributions of bees and the potential losses if bee populations continue to decline.
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