Cascadian Farm 'Bee Friendlier' Effort Enlists Public to Help Protect Insects

 The New York Times/Media    By Andrew Adam Newman   October 10, 2014

ALARM has grown in recent years over the widespread loss of bee colonies, not just because of the canary-in-the-coal-mine implications about how factors like pesticides and parasites might be to blame, but also for a more direct reason: Bees pollinate an estimated 75 percent of food crops.

As part of a continuing cause-marketing campaign, “Share the Buzz,” in 2013 Whole Foods released a photograph of one of its fully stocked produce sections and another with the bee-reliant fruits and vegetables that account for 52 percent of its produce removed. In June, Whole Foods released similarly stark before-and-after photos of a dairy case, explaining that bees pollinate the clover and alfalfa fed to dairy and beef cows.

Now Cascadian Farm, the 42-year-old organic brand owned by General Mills, is promoting its own campaign, “Bee Friendlier.”

A new online video features Chris Burley, who founded Seedles, which developed gumball-size pellets that combine wildflower seeds, compost and clay, to provide nectar and pollen to nourish bees. Seedles are tossed on the ground without planting, and the seeds leach into the soil when it rains. (Uncovered seeds tossed on the ground can be blown away or eaten by birds.)

Also featured is Emma Torbert, an organic farmer in Yolo County, Calif., who agreed to let Cascadian Farm plant one of her fields with wildflowers.

In the video, a crop-duster is loaded with Seedles and, as children lined up along a fence cheer it on, the plane flies over the field and drops the pellets. Slow-motion footage from a camera affixed to the plane shows the pellets as they are released, while at the ground level they are seen hitting the soil and bouncing, like hail. Viewers are encouraged to do their part.

“Whether they use Seedles or not doesn’t matter to me, just grow some wildflowers, plant some seeds, do something,” Mr. Burley says in the video. “This is like the matchstick, the catalyst, for inspiring a lot of other small collective actions because we’re going to need many, many millions more flowers.”

The “Bee Friendlier” campaign, including the video and digital ads that will promote it, is by Solve Advertising and Branding in Minneapolis.

The annual loss of bees among commercial beekeepers had long been about 5 percent, but in the last eight years it jumped to an average of almost 30 percent, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

In a 2013 TED Talk, Marla Spivak, an entomologist with the University of Minnesota Bee Lab, said that there was no single cause for so-called colony collapse disorder. Rather, she showed a schematic of “multiple, interacting causes of death” for the bees: parasites that attach themselves to the insects, pesticides, flowerless landscapes and monocultures — the commercial farming practice of cultivating a single crop over vast acreage, often at the exclusion of blossoming plants even bordering fields. At the close of her talk, which has garnered more than 1.7 million views online, Professor Spivak urged the audience to plant wildflowers to help bees.

John Colasanti, the chief executive of Solve, who studied with Professor Spivak to get his beekeeper certification, said the point of “Bee Friendlier” is less to highlight causes of the problem than to point out one way to help address it.

“It’s more about action than it is about awareness,” Mr. Colasanti said. “As we looked at what just about everybody could do to make a significant difference, it came down to planting wildflowers, so we focused on that.”

In June, Cascadian Farm introduced a cereal, Buzz Crunch Honey Almond, available only at Whole Foods, with the brand donating $1 for each purchase. As much as $100,000 will go to the Xerces Society, which is dedicated to the conservation of invertebrate species, including bees.

Scott Lee, director of marketing for Cascadian Farm, said the overall “Bee Friendlier” effort serves a dual purpose.

“If bee colonies continue to crash and those hives continue to go away, it puts strain on the food supply and our supply chain,” Mr. Lee said. “Also, it’s something that more and more consumers are becoming aware of, so it’s an issue that’s important to our consumers as well.”

But what is important to many consumers about Cascadian Farm — its use of organic ingredients and avoidance of genetically modified ingredients — is not General Mills’ overall approach, and the incongruity has not gone unnoticed.

GMO Inside, which helped lead a consumer campaign to persuade General Mills to remove genetically modified ingredients from the original version of Cheerios, addressed the introduction of the Buzz Crunch cereal and Cascadian Farm’s other “Bee Friendlier” efforts in a blog post in July. The post, which estimated that Cascadian Farm represented less than 3 percent of the company’s business, said pesticides associated with conventional ingredients in many General Mills products threatened bees more than efforts by its organic brand helped them.

“Less than 3 percent of General Mills’ sales are working toward ‘saving the bees’ while 97 percent are killing them,” the post said.

General Mills in September announced plans to buy another organic brandAnnie’s, for $820 million. This caused an uproar on Annie’s Facebook page, where fans noted that Annie’s had pushed for tougher G.M.O.-labeling requirements while General Mills had opposed them.

But Mr. Lee, of Cascadian Farm, said General Mills offered a range of choices.

“General Mills understands there are varying degrees of beliefs and consumer interests and offers non-G.M.O. and organic brands like Cascadian Farm,” he said. “So from a brand standpoint, ‘Bee Friendlier’ is very much aligned with our beliefs, and General Mills recognizes that.”

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