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