Bees are dying globally at an alarming rate, and last week, Cheerios figured it would step in and help. The cereal brand, whose mascot — after all — is a honeybee, announced it would mail out free wildflower seeds as part of a “Save the Bees” campaign to provide more nectar for the struggling pollinator. By Friday, just one week in, it had given away 1.5 billion of them — ten times more than the original goal and, as it later explained in a blog post, enough to deplete General Mills’ entire supply.
There was just one tiny problem: It picked wildflowers that can grow into bad news for certain recipients’ local ecosystems. Rather than ship each person a seed pack custom-tailored to their region, which would have been a ton of work, Cheerios used a generic mix — forget-me-nots, poppies, daisies, lavender, hyssop, and about a dozen others. But, as Lifehacker realized, many of them aren’t native to any part of America. Worse, Massachusetts and Connecticut ban forget-me-nots, and poppies are considered an “invasive exotic pest” in the southeast. As an ecologist explains, plant those in the wrong area, and they can “take up all the space and use up all the resources,” or even “spread disease” that could be detrimental to both plants and humans alike.
To show the campaign’s enormous reach, Cheerios’s #BringBacktheBees site offers a handy map that logs where it sent every pack, and the southeast and New England in particular are just jam-packed with dots. Over the weekend, the company jumped into defense mode, telling critics on social media that while they “appreciate” those concerns, there’s no need for worry because the seeds were chosen specifically to attract “bees” (listed as though they’re one generic entity) and “are not considered invasive” — which, at least according to the USDA, doesn’t appear to be true at all.
Bee experts are also pointing out to Cheerios that “context is important,” and what’s good for honeybees isn’t necessarily good for native bumblebees and other species, or vice versa. A third group angry about the seeds, meanwhile, is blasting General Mills for trying to #BringBacktheBees when lab tests have shown that the oats it uses in Cheerios contain traces of Monsanto’s Roundup, an herbicide tied to colony-collapse disorder that might also be giving everybody cancer.