This week, National Pollinator Week, marks an important time to not only celebrate the role honey bees play in the sustainability of our food system, but also to spur action that can support the health of these pollinators. While everyone can play a part in maintaining bee health, collective action is the key to safeguarding the 35 percent of the world’s crops that rely on pollinators to some degree.
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to share more about this work at the SB’18 Vancouver conference, one of the largest gatherings of sustainability practitioners and global change-makers. Joined by our peers and partners within the food industry — representing Kashi, Honey Bee Health Coalition (HBHC), Project Apis m. and the University of California at Davis — our session outlined four ways brands can engage in protecting pollinator and bee health.
1. Support credible pollination and bee research.
Neal Williams, Professor of Pollination and Bee Biology at the University of California at Davis, set the stage for the urgency of maintaining honey bee health and the many challenges facing these pollinators, including disease parasites, pesticides and poor nutrition. The Williams Lab at University of California Davis seeks to better understand these challenges by identifying methods that can be adopted to effectively enhance pollinator populations. By funding research on pollinator habitat, brands can help uncover solutions to address underlying factors of these complex issues, such as current research being done around the need for diversity of forage.
2. Take a seat as a collaborative stakeholder.
Matthew Mulica, the Policy Facilitator at Keystone Policy Center and HBHC, shared how the Coalition works to develop programs that enable collaboration with growers on pollinator health. This focuses on increasing communication between beekeepers and other agricultural players, providing forage and nutritional opportunities, and decreasing the harmful impact pesticides can have on bees. Mulica believes benefits to bee health can be created by incorporating an additional focus on pollinators to existing work, instead of designing new projects and programs, and can be achieved in collaboration with brands.
3. Fund and partner to expand habitat programs, scholarships and honey bee health funds.
Danielle Downey, Executive Director of Project Apis m., a nonprofit organization working at the intersection of science, honey bees and agriculture, reinforced the notion of industry collaboration and the power it has to harmonize and connect efforts. Project Apis m. partners with brands and organizations including Costco, Droga Chocolates and the Almond Board of California on its Seeds for Bees program. Downey added that the type of funding that can bring the laboratory to the landscape to support industry collaboration and consolidation of resources will enable brands to amplify their investments and simultaneously catalyze industry-wide change.
4. Develop a program by working with your suppliers on transparency and sourcing options.
Tina Owens, the Director of Sustainability and Strategic Sourcing at Kashi, discussed how the brand has worked to develop its own honey bee program to address consumers expectations. With 87 percent of consumers willing to purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about, Kashi recognized consumer desires for action and the opportunity to stand out in the marketplace. Kashi worked with experts in the field, such as University of California Berkeley, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and the University of Vermont, to create the program that includes a policy on no pesticide or antibiotic residue.
At the ABC, we have also seen first-hand the positive and scalable impact these types of collaborations can have on sustaining bee health for a thriving agricultural system. The California almond community — spanning universities, government agencies, nonprofits and others — came together to develop a comprehensive set of recommendations for stakeholders in the pollination process to ensure almond orchards are and remain a safe space for honey bees. In 2014, ABC released the Honey Bee Best Management Practices, building on decades of work by the almond industry.
While progress is being made, more can be done to protect the health of our pollinators. But with an expanded focus on collaboration, brands stand to bee more impactful.