Buzz the Bee, the mascot for Honey Nut Cheerios cereal, has left his usual post to go join the fight to save his buzzing brethren.
Bees are in trouble, and General Mills, the company that produces Cheerios, wants to help. In its two-pronged campaign, the cereal hopes to promote awareness by replacing its characteristic mascot on the box with an eye-catching white silhouette, as well as habitat recovery by distributing more than 100 million free packets of wildflower seeds.
"Buzz and his friends need our help. We’re pledging to give away 100 million wildflower seeds, in partnership with Veseys Seeds, to get the movement started," the company wrote on the campaign page.
Our flying friends pollinate more than just flowers. As much as one-third of the crops raised around the world depend on pollinators to bloom, accounting for up to half a trillion dollars of the world economy. Among the many foods that require bees are apples, mangos, peaches, strawberries, carrots, tomatoes, and grapes.
"Wild bees are a precious natural resource we should celebrate and protect," said Taylor Ricketts, a University of Vermont conservation ecologist and the architect of the nation’s first "bee map," at a conference earlier this year. "If managed with care, they can help us continue to produce billions of dollars in agricultural income and a wonderful diversity of nutritious food."
But a myriad of pressures including habitat loss, pesticide use, disease, and climate change threaten bees’ survival. A 2016 UN study found that 40 percent of invertebrate pollinators worldwide face extinction, and the United States put its first bee on the endangered species list early this year. Domesticated hives aren’t safe either, dying off the alarming rate of about 30 percent per year.
As of 2016 the US had already lost about 4.4 million of the 4.5 million honeybee colonies it had in 2006, Reuters reports.
"Pollinators are small but mighty parts of the natural mechanism that sustains us and our world," said Tom Melius, the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Midwest regional director, to the Associated Press in January. "Without them, our forests, parks, meadows and shrublands, and the abundant, vibrant life they support, cannot survive, and our crops require laborious, costly pollination by hand."
To avoid such a future, Cheerios is trying to tackle the habitat loss part of the problem. Bees need flowers to pollinate, as well as wild areas such as clumps of grass for nesting sites. The US Fish and Wildlife Service recommends a number of measures individuals can take to help save the rusty patch bumblebee in particular, including minimizing pesticide use, planting gardens of native flowers, and maintaining unmowed patches of grass.
The company has already reached its goal of distributing 100 million packets of wildflower seeds to people interested in planting a garden, and they’re continuing to hand them out here.
The company also distributed 100 million wildflower seeds last year in Canada, where bees are in peril as well.