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Jul 302009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Help the Honey Bees, a web-based campaign by Haagen Daz is trying to build buzz for the beneficial insects, which are beset by a mysterious ailment that causes whole colonies to collapse.

The effort includes backing some cute You Tube videos (dancing humans dressed as bees definitely help personify this issue), and a series of “challenges” on the Experience Project in which people can plant a flower or pledge to eat natural foods to help honey bees. There’s also a bee trivia quiz.

Why bees? And why Haagen Daz? There are pragmatic and altruistic reasons. The ice cream maker depends on honey bees for many of the foods used to flavor its delectable recipes. Almond and strawberry-flavored ice cream, for starters, both begin with bees pollinating plants in the field. Vanilla Haagen Daz, a signature flavor sweetened with honey, also depends directly on the bees – obviously. And now the company has created a new Vanilla Honey Bee to highlight the honeybee’s woes.

But bees pollinate much more than the plants Haagen Daz needs. They make many of the crops grown in the US click, come springtime. (If you missed high school biology and need a brush-up on this, there’s one on the site.) So keeping these little matchmakers healthy is an issue with many  stakeholders, basically humans who eat.

Yet, in the wake of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which has killed millions of bees (one in three hives in the last three years), the bees are struggling and crops are threatened.

There are other pollinators, butterflies, bats, birds, but most are geared to certain plants. Bees are the workhorses of pollination.

Congress held hearings and the USDA is funding research, but bee farmers (apiarists) say the money is not nearly enough. Haagen Daz is donating an undisclosed amount of money to research too.

Officials have not come out with an official cause of CCD. Some researchers are studying a virus that might weaken the bees and trigger CCD. Others say pesticides, particularly certain types that are taken up by plants, may be damaging the bees neurologically. (See our story from last summer.)

Those studying CCD have noticed that afflicted bees seem to lose their homing instincts or orientation, a sign of a neurological factor. Experts are studying the problem worldwide, because without bees, ecosystems can collapse, crops and gardens can wither as fruits and vegetable plants fail to produce.

Haagen Daz hopes to raise the profile of this problem, which affects us all but has been (pardon the pun) flying under the radar.

Whatever the cause of CCD, advocates say you can do your part by:

  • Getting rid of pesticides in your lawn and garden
  • Planting native plants with flowers that sustain bees (The Pollinator Partnership has garden guides to make sure you’re planting what bees want to eat.)
  • Sending a note to lawmakers to pay attention to this issue

Here’s one of those bee spots on You Tube:

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