Friday, March 17, 2017

Cheerios Might Be Bad for You and Bees

The recent Cheerios-sponsored wildflower giveaway to save the bees was fraught with problems. First, saving the bees does not mean honey bees, which are imports and globally stable. Honey bees also out compete are more valuable native bees for resources while spreading disease. Second, many of the seeds were exotics, some invasive. And of the native seeds included, they may or may not be native across the country, thus also potentially invasive. In addition, the seeds were provided by a Monsanto-owned company. Third, a recent study showed high levels of glyphosate in Cheerios, higher than is allowed and that could be toxic, especially to kids who eat the cereal often. Previous studies have shown arsenic in Cheerios. It's clear Cheerios uses ingredients sourced from unsustainable agricultural methods -- methods that surely harm lot of bees, pollinators, and other wildlife.

Cheerios gave away 10x the seeds they were going to, and in very quick order -- only a few days. Folks jumped at the chance to do good, and while I'm all for corporations (even those that greenwash) to help lead the way, tacitly sponsoring a for-profit business with a dubious environmental background does raise some ethical concerns. Of course, we do live in a consumer-based, capitalist society where our leaders are brand names. 

We desperately want to do good by the bees and the environment. And companies like General Mills will play on that goodwill as a marketing tactic -- which is just how the system works. But, because we want to do good, and because we're eager to support any movement that offers a simple solution and confirms our beliefs or desires, we hand over critical thinking to someone else. This is dangerous, especially in a time of climate change and mass extinction. 

This all makes me think about butterfly bush, how so many believe planting it helps pollinators, when for many ecosystems it's a thug and / or supports only a limited number of adult pollinators. Or when we justifuy exotic plants like hosta, daffodil, or forsythia because we see a bee on them, then say well, these are helpful, too, without knowing what species are using the plant for forage or how the plant contributes to the ecosystem beyond its blooms. And don't get me started on using exotics to "extend the bloom time." What did pollinators do before we brought in exotics?

We must think more deeply. Doing so is not being a downer or poo-pooing a wildflower seed giveaway -- instead, it will lead to greater empowerment and action because we are not blindly following what makes us feel good in an impulse, but what makes us do good through research and critical thinking over time.


AScott said...

Great insight, even though I have to admit it's disheartening. I also requested a cheerios seed packet after reading about the promo on the news - just out of curiousity regarding what they were considering "wildflowers". ...I haven't received mine yet. Do they include a species list on the packaging? It's a very frustrating position to be "literate/elightened/etc" about this topic, and then to witness so many missed opportunities and flubs because of lack of research (and I know this isn't unique to this cause). Why Monsanto? Why not source from multiple native suppliers across the country? I know the answers are obvious (cost & convenience) but it still irks me. Thanks for being so vigilant, and for all of the good/hard work. Looking forward to the new book!

P.s. I wanted to share regarding honeybees: since buying our home 5 years ago, I had gone through cycles of homesteading fever; should we have chickens? (No - too much work, can't travel, etc). I actually felt really disappointed about this until I realized I could have a bee hive! Then, that came to a screeching halt when I thought about the competition with native pollinators. We're on a typical suburban 1/4 acre lot with fragmented habitat...i'd been converting all of our landscaping to natives since the day we moved in...did it make sense to do that only to have an introduced species reap the rewards? In the end, i'm sticking to my guns; less lawn; larger, more diverse gardens with fertile soil, plentiful leaf mulch, bare spots for ground nesting bees, bundled stems tucked away for larva - any of this sound familiar? ;) I know my little yard won't save the world, but these small things make me feel a little bit better about what's going on in it.

Benjamin Vogt said...

AScott -- You're doing very well, imo! Gotta start somewhere, and revolution / compassion starts at home. Who knows, in a few years you might be running for state senate. ;)

Here's a list of plants from Cheerios:

Brian T said...

It's good to know that there were so many people interested in helping pollinators, but I think it's just this kind of wildflower-garden-in-a-packet that has convinced many people that native plants are not worthy garden subjects. Surprisingly, the Cheerios seed mix has a lower percentage of non-natives (6 out of 19) than is usual for these kinds of mixes. However, out of the 19 species in the mix, 12 species are annual, one is biennial, and only 6 are perennial. This means that, even with a vigorous cover the first year, the second year will probably be patchy because most of the wildflowers will have to start again from fallen seed that survived the weather, being eaten by birds, and landing in an unsuitable spot. And this time there will be more weed competition. The frequent result of these kinds of gardens is something that looks like an unmowed patch of lawn by the end of the second season. Many who have experienced this will remember that wildflower gardens are unattractive weed patches.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Brian -- That is a most excellent point. Spot on, as usual. We don't need any more roadblocks in fighting the stereotype that wildflowers are weedy, messy, and poor performers.