“The world’s bee population is in crisis and Honey Nut Cheerios is coming to the rescue, minus its perky mascot.” — Toronto Star, March 15, 2016

Move over Kathleen Wynne and Glen Murray. There’s a new saviour of bees in town.

General Mills Canada announced last week “Buzz” the honeybee will disappear from its Honey Nut Cheerios packaging for six weeks to raise awareness about “disappearing” bee populations. “Bees everywhere have been disappearing by the millions and it’s time we all did something about it,” says the company’s Bring Back the Bees website.

“One third of the foods we depend on for our survival are made possible by the natural pollination work that bees provide,” said Emma Eriksson, Director of Marketing for General Mills Canada. “With ongoing losses in bee populations being reported across Canada, we’re issuing a call to action to Canadians to help plant 35 million wildflowers – one for every person in Canada.”

Together with PEI-based seed company Veseys, General Mills is encouraging people across Canada to visit BringBackTheBees.ca to request free seed packs to be delivered in the mail. The campaign uses animal rescue videos set to a cover of the 1985 hit “Broken Wings” to tug at your heartstrings about the plight of and the need to help bees in Canada.

20150710_hives canola bee beesThe idea of planting diverse plant species as hosts for bees is great (as long as they’re not promoting noxious weeds, as has happened with milkweed for monarch butterflies here in Manitoba). It’s similar to the BeesMatter.ca initiative launched last year. Promoting awareness about the importance of pollinators such as bees in producing food is also valuable. However, there’s one problem.

Honeybee populations in Canada are not declining. They’re growing.

“It is an advertising piece that does not necessarily represent a true picture,” said Canadian Honey Council executive director Rod Scarlett when I asked him for perspective on the campaign.

If we look at the number of honeybee colonies in Canada, there have never been more. According to Statistics Canada, there were 721 thousand colonies in Canada in 2015, the most reported in StatsCan’s records going back to 1924.

honeybeecoloniesstatscanNative bee populations are much harder to track and there are real concerns about pollinator health, however the BringBacktheBees campaign doesn’t differentiate between honeybees and native bees. The missing Cheerios’ mascot leads us to think all bees are in big trouble. They’re not.

“The health status of bees is precarious, and we are barely ahead of the multitude of different issues that can cause widespread devastation to bee populations, but what irks me is that Cheerios is claiming that bees are disappearing when that in fact is not true, especially in Canada,” noted Alberta beekeeper Lee Townsend in an email. “Canadian honey bee populations are at an all time high, and world populations are in a similar situation.”

To say “bees are disappearing by the millions” is technically true. Bee deaths in the millions are normal in Canada. Winter isn’t kind to bees or their food. It’s considered acceptable to lose 15 percent of colonies in a winter. Scarlett explained the math: a million bees equals between 20 and 30 colonies. There are 720 thousand colonies in Canada, so a 15 percent loss amounts to 108 thousand colonies, or well into the millions. But beekeepers are accustomed to these types of losses and are capable of rebuilding their colonies, as shown by the climbing yellow line in the graph above.

In some ways this bee campaign is similar to General Mills marketing Cheerios as non-GMO. What’s the main ingredient in Cheerios? Oats. Have there ever been GMO oats? No, but why let facts get in the way of advertising?

If General Mills really wants to make a difference in bee health, Townsend suggested the company should donate a portion of proceeds from products that use honey to the Canadian Bee Reseach Fund.

“That money could then be used to the actual benefit of the industry, specifically research on controls for parasitic mites/nosema/nutrition/genetics/ag chemical impacts,” he said. “Plantings seeds is not horrible, but it is little more than a feel-good story for General Mills and their consumers that buy into it. It won’t change the current health status of bees in Canada.”

General Mills’ message is misleading in the context of growing honeybee populations in Canada. Misinformation like this has already led to poorly thought-out farm policy from Wynne and Murray’s government in Ontario. There are billions of honeybees in the country and more colonies than ever before. There are also valid concerns about pollinator health, but the honeybee population in Canada is not disappearing.


9 thoughts on “Honey Nut Cheerios’ Buzz is Disappearing, But Honeybees Are Not

  1. The anecdotal evidence I see suggests that there are fewer bees and an increase in commercial honey bee colonies does not mean there is not a problem. Where there used to be thousands of bees in each of our fruit trees now there are only a few hundred. Like General Mills the author is guilty of miss leading nonsense.

    1. In his last sentence the author clearly states that there are valid concerns about Pollinator health. He also quotes a beekeeper and the executive director of the Canadian Honey Council. These are individuals who are involved in bee health every day. They state that planting wildflowers is nice and feels good but let’s pay attention to what they think would be reasonable solutions . I don’t believe calling any ideas nonsense is helpful. However, it is obvious that individuals who work with bees every day are certainly worthwhile listening too.

    2. I agree, you just need to ask the beekeepers in my family, one who has found in April 2016 that all of his beehives are 100% dead.

  2. The need for pollination of crops continues to increase. Un-managed bees have been decreasing. So managed honey bee colony numbers are increasing. Those things don’t = “there’s no problem”. Annual losses (even if beekeepers try to make up for them) are still unsustainably high. Simple statistics are not the whole story.

  3. This has been an interesting and informative thread. I decided to research a bit. (condensed) Still long, I hope you read it .

    A. Natural Wildlife Federation “Invasive species” — have devastating effects on U.S. wildlife. Invasive species are one of the leading threats to native wildlife. Invasive species are primarily spread by human activities, often unintentionally.
    * Ornamental plants: Some ornamental plants can escape into the wild and become invasive.
    When a new and aggressive species is introduced into an ecosystem, it might not have any natural predators or controls.  It can spread quickly, taking over an area. The direct threats of invasive species:
    * out-competing native species that wildlife use for food or other resources
    The indirect threats of invasive species:
    * Changing food webs: Invasive species can change the food web in an ecosystem by destroying or replacing native food sources. The invasive species may provide little to no food value for wildlife.
    * Aggressive plant species can quickly replace a diverse ecosystem.

    B. We know that wheat, barley, oats etc are not pollinated by bees. We know that these crops are infrequently sprayed with a pesticide. A bug threshold must be reached before crop damage. We don’t spray pesticides on pasture and alfalfa is again seldom sprayed. With the high technology of spraying there is very little drift away from the field. The damage to another field is both costly and can bring in the govt environment agencies, so farmers are very careful.

    C. Time Magazine- there are three “primary drivers” of honeybee loss: The varroa mite, pesticides and poor nutrition. A university professor of entomologist doesn’t hesitate when asked to name the largest threat to bees: “I’d get rid of the varroa first.”
    Varroa mites, properly (and frighteningly) named Varroa destructor, likely migrated to the U.S. sometime in the 1980s. They attach to a honeybee’s body and suck its blood, which kills many bees and spreads disease to others. The varroa can jump from one colony to another, wiping out whole populations of honeybees. There are treatments that combat the varroa. But many small-scale beekeepers don’t use them. “That’s bad, because they can spread mites to neighboring colonies,” he adds.

    D. Poor nutrition—is likely the most confounding of the honeybee’s enemies. There is a problem with lack of food sources as beekeepers keep expanding and more land is cropped.

    E. Of the major bee-killers listed, pesticides have arguably gotten the most press and research suggests neonicotinoids may be extremely harmful to bees and many other insects, but “We don’t find levels of neonicotinoids that are indicative of widespread exposure or harm,” (back to farmer’s field management).

    F. If you look up what the seed packets contain, they reseed either annually or biannually. Most of the plants grow tall, 3 ft or more and are invasive. Their seeds will blow in the wind and be carried everywhere.

    G. One of the significant things about buying greenhouse plants is that most are hybrids that don’t reseed. The plants are grown inside in sterile garden or potting soil that has undergone heat or chemical processing to kill any pathogens and seeds that are in it. Sterile soil is less likely to spread diseases and has never been sprayed with pesticides. You don’t need to use treated seeds.

    H. Cheerios is using bees as an emotional ploy, using “saving bees” and giving you something “free”. They are NOT helping the environment, the bees or wildlife. The corporate marketing board is sitting downtown figuring out profit strategies, they are not out in the fields with the farmers discussing bees.

    I. Home Depot is selling on a platform that is already a standard, not something new. Gardeners use the pesticides (or not), the greenhouse doesn’t need too, they are indoors and it is expensive.

    Bees are definitely having problems. But throwing seeds around that are not indigenous to the area could become the bigger problem.

    Made me think. Others on this thread have mentioned that this is all about marketing. I’ve thought so too but this info leads me to believe bees problems are way more complex.

    Agriculture is being vilified by marketers looking for new ways to sell to the emotions of the people.
    We can’t let ourselves fall for the misinformation out there. Look more for what they don’t say then their “feel good” “look at what we are doing” antics.

    “Food” for thought anyway. 🙂

  4. Slight of hand advertising! Show them one thing so they don’t see the other. A quick check of the nutrition label on Honey Nut Cherrios tell us that 1/3 of a cup of this cereal is sugar. It’s good to be concerned for the healthy state of nature, but at what point do we become concerned for the healthy state of our children?

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