HowChee­rios bum­bled an e≠ ort to save bees ... and howa CSU bi­ol­o­gist helped sound the alarm

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Dar­ryl Fears

Chee­rios had its heart in the right place. It­wanted to help save Amer­ica’s im­per­iled bee pop­u­la­tions be­cause, af­ter all, the an­i­mated “pitch­man” for it­sHoney Nut va­ri­ety is a hon­ey­bee.

But like ev­ery tasty toasted oat in ev­ery Chee­rios box, the res­cue plan had a hole.

Chee­rios, owned by Gen­eral Mills, stuck 1.5 bil­lion pack­aged wild­flower seeds in boxes so that pa­trons could plant them. It was part of the com­pany’s Bring Back the Bees cam­paign, com­plete with its own hash­tag, which sought to cre­ate habi­tat that bees are los­ing to de­vel­op­ment, farms and in­sec­ti­cides.

But some of the seeds on the list are in­va­sive species that kill na­tive plants and take over the places where they grow.

Kathryn Turner sounded an alarm when the freeseed give­away came to her at­ten­tion on Twit­ter:

“Please don’t plant this. Con­tains seeds of plants in­tro­duced/ nox­ious in the US. “

A few days af­ter the tweet, Life­hacker. com con­tacted Turner at Colorado State Univer­sity, where she’s an evo­lu­tion­ary bi­ol­o­gist and post­doc­toral fel­low in the Depart­ment of Bioa­gri­cul­tural Sciences and Pest Man­age­ment. The world caught on when Life­hacker’s story broke.

“The orig­i­nal plant list­ing in­cluded a plant that­was in­va­sive,” Turner said Wed­nes­day, al­though the seed sup­plier said Chi­nese For­get- Me- Notsweren’t ac­tu­ally in the pack­age.

Here’s what Life­hacker ac­cu­rately re­ported: “For­getMe- Not ... is banned as a nox­iousweed in Mas­sachusetts and Con­necti­cut, for ex­am­ple. The Cal­i­for­nia poppy is nice in Cal­i­for­nia, but listed as an in­va­sive and ex­otic pest plant in south­east­ern states. And many of the flow­ers on this list are not na­tive any­where in the U. S., so they are not nec­es­sar­ily good matches for lo­cal bees.”

The rev­e­la­tion seemed to pain Turner be­cause she knows that bees are in trou­ble — dis­ap­pear­ing by the mil­lions, which, in turn, puts many crops they pol­li­nate at risk— and that Gen­eral Mill­swas try­ing to do a good thing. OnWed­nes­day, com­pany spokesman Mike Siemienas ex­plained: “The Honey Nut Chee­rios wild­flower pack­ets con­tain the same va­ri­eties of seeds that con­sumer­swill find in seed racks at ma­jor na­tional home store chains through­out the U. S.”

Even though seeds are avail­able in home im­prove­ment stores, that doesn’t mean they should be traf­ficked across the coun­try in boxes to ar­eas where they don’t be­long, Turner said. Given some places’ ban on For­get- Me- Nots, for ex­am­ple, “I don’t know how they would be able to send seeds to those states.”

While sev­eral other plants on the Chee­rios list are non­na­tive, “that doesn’t mean it will be a prob­lem, but it’s a sig­nif­i­cant risk,” Turner said. “My thing is why they would have cho­sen that at all. I have no idea. I mean it seems like some bi­ol­o­gist should be in­volved.”

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