Honeybees and Ice Cream

EC File Photo

EC File Photo

What does eating ice cream and a recent crisis involving a lack of honey bees have in common? A lot!

Many businesses may overlook their reliance on wildlife and nature to support production, marketing, and creation of consumer products.   It’s a little known fact that up to 80% of food in the US relies on pollination at some point in its life cycle, and that honey bees are directly responsible for the pollination of up to 30% of food crops.  Foods that are reliant upon honeybees range from alfalfa (used as feed for beef), oranges, grapes, almonds, blueberries, watermelon, squash, cherries, cucumbers, pears, peanuts, strawberries, ginger, hazelnuts, raspberries, mangoes, coconuts, peppermint,  and of course honey, just to name a few.  This free source of labor allows for cheaper prices and greater availability of all-natural food sources.

Over the past 3 years, nearly one-third of America’s once-thriving honey bee colonies have suddenly collapsed.  The phenomenon, named Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), is only just beginning to be understood by scientists, but its effects on businesses and consumers have been felt strongly.  It’s estimated that honey bees contribute $15 billion worth of value to U.S. farmers, and in their absence, these costs have been absorbed by consumers and producers resulting in lower production and higher prices of foods reliant on honey bee pollination.

One company that has taken a pro-active stance to this crisis is Häagen-Dazs, the gourmet and all natural ice cream producers from New York.  Häagen-Dazs has recognized their strong dependence on the free work of honey bees to provide large harvests of many of their main ingredients and spearheaded a campaign to educate and promote awareness on the issue.  They even launched a new flavor in honor of the honeybees, “Vanilla Honey Bee.”

In a worst case scenario, the honeybee population diminishes to the point to where businesses like Häagen-Dazs must resort to artificial pollination- a very expensive procedure- and the variety and abundance of naturally growing fruit and nut trees is significantly reduced.  Häagen-Dazs’s Brand Director, Katty Pien , said in February 2008 interview with CNN that she hopes scientists get a breakthough in the CCD mystery soon, or the company may be forced to reduce the varieties of flavors, or increase the retail prices of their ice cream products.  With the $20 million per year of funding from the US Department of Agriculture, and a growing recognition of honeybees’ hard work on behalf of businesses like Häagen-Dazs as well as from consumers, causes of CCD, hopefully, will be identified, and the honeybee population restored.  And the little known heroes of the business world will continue to bring us benefits.

-Elizabeth Stone

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