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Nature expert has concerns about Cheerios' plan to bring back the bees

(Source: WMBF News) (Source: WMBF News)

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Insects that help your garden blossom are slowly dwindling in numbers.  People are even visiting garden centers now asking how they can attract more of the tiny worker insects we know as bees.  Gardeners aren't the only ones taking notice; even cereal brand giant General Mills wants to raise awareness of the importance of bees.

“It sounded like they had a really good marketing strategy to get out using bees as a primary point of concern.  Everybody's worried about bees, everybody's worried about pollinators and how that affects our food supply, so when Cheerios and General Mills came out with this idea 'wildflowers for bees,' everybody caught right on,” said Ben Powell, the area natural resources agent for the Clemson Extension.

General Mills rolled out with a '#BringBackTheBees' campaign this month on its Honey Nut Cheerios boxes.  The boxes will look like they normally do, except the famous cereal mascot Buzz the Bee will be missing.  The backs of the boxes will have information on how you can help save bee populations.  Additionally, General Mills will send you a pack of wildflower seeds to plant for the bees if you request it.  Cheerios announced Friday over 1.5 billion seeds have been sent out so far.  The box change is temporary, but the message is not.

Powell said commercial beekeepers will be losing 30 to 40 percent of their bees annually.  The bees die from invasive beetles and mites, as well as disease and pesticides. He also said how we manage our landscapes can play a part in a bee's survival.  According to CNN.com, bees pollinate 35 percent of the world's food supply, of which the fate of many species and billions of dollars of global crops depend on.  

For the first time ever in the United States, a bumblebee has been placed on the endangered species list.  The rusty patched bumblebee was placed on that list Tuesday, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  It's now a protected species.

The #BringBackTheBees campaign started in Canada last year, but grew to all of North America this year.   Although Buzz the Bee will be absent from boxes, The General Mills-owned brand is encouraging Honey Nut Cheerios buyers to plant the seeds and post pictures of what springs from the ground on social media.  However, not everyone is all in for the campaign.

Honey Nut Cheerios is using a variety of 19 different wildflowers, native to various states and countries.  Only five of those wildflowers are native to South Carolina, Powell said.  Plants needing a different climate than coastal Carolina's may not survive anyways.  But, wildflowers not native to here could become invasive and hurt our own natural ecosystem, especially if there are no natural predators to it here, Powell said.

"So you can take a plant from the mountains of Tennessee to the coastal plain of South Carolina and the likelihood of it even surviving is very low, but there are some pretty adaptable, hardy plants out there...when introduced to a new system find that system free of diseases, free of predators...free of things that would normally keep them under control back home...and they use that to their advantage and become very aggressive," Powell said.

However, none of the wildflowers are on South Carolina's 'illegal' plant list.  In Powell's opinion, he thinks the Honey Nut Cheerios #BringBackTheBees message is great, but maybe not the best executed. He's not the only one who thinks so.  The campaign is spreading like wildflowers itself across social media and news outlets nationwide.

When it comes to how you can help save the bees, Powell said to follow chemical spraying instructions step-by-step. He said any brand can be used, if the directions are followed."Any pesticide that is labeled can be safe for use...if it's gone through the research process to get that label...as long as you follow that label and you apply the right amounts at the right times using the right equipment than the potential for non-targeted effects are fairly low...so I'm not going to say that one pesticide is worse than another."

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