If you’ve seen a box of Cheerios recently, you may have noticed a glaring white space where its mascot “Buzz” the bee usually hovers over a cereal bowl. General Mills (the parent company of Cheerios) has removed his image to raise awareness for bee decline and the threat this poses to the species and our food system. General Mills is also sending out free wildflower seeds to customers to plant in their backyards.
While this is a great way to shed light on the issue (not to mention a good PR move) it does not address the fact that General Mills’ own growing methods harm bees. Original Cheerios no longer contain GMOs (thanks GMO Insiders!) but other flavors of Cheerios like “Honey Nut” contain soy, corn, and beet sugar that come from genetically engineered (GE) crops. Most GE seeds are coated in neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides that are highly toxic to insects like bees. The pesticide coating ends up in the plants cells and pollen, directly exposing bees to the toxins.
Furthermore, GE crops are modified to withstand heavy applications of herbicides like Monsanto’s Roundup. Herbicides are used to kill weeds like milkweed, which is a main source of food for bees. Studies show that Glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, harm bees’ spatial learning ability, making it difficult for them to forage for the hive.
Cheerios have been identified as one of the packaged foods that tested positive for trace amounts of glyphosate. This means that not only is the glyphosate used on General Mills’ crops contributing to bee decline, it is also ending up on the plates of consumers and their families.
Unfortunately, the free wildflower seeds General Mills is distributing could wind up causing further harm to bee populations. The seed mix includes those of plants which are non-native to many areas, and even some which are considered invasive species. Instead of taking part in this potentially damaging PR exercise, planting some flowers that are native to your region would be a great help to bees.
If Cheerios believes, as stated on their website, that “people need bees. And now bees need people,” they must start their advocacy from within and reform their growing methods. General Mills can help bees by:
- Transitioning all crops to non-GMO seeds and using organic growing methods which do not utilize toxic pesticides and herbicides.
- Taking advantage of its household name to create real awareness about the risk to bees and what can be done to help save them, including the planting of native wildflowers. Cheerios Buzz the Bee page is a great place for General Mills to put information and reach kids across America.
- Using its position as a food conglomerate with huge economic power to lobby Congress for better pollinator protections.
- Through agricultural reforms, General Mills can act as a model of how all food corporations can address bee decline.
Until these necessary changes are made, you can support cereal brands with sustainable supply chains like General Mills’ own Cascadian Farms O’s, which are non-GMO Project Verified and organic. Now that’s buzzworthy.