While there’s plenty of buzz right now about plant-based veggie burgers upending the status quo in meat cases in markets across the country (Safeway recently joined the meatless trend), there’s another breakthrough idea that's reshaping the food system in an equally powerful (though quieter) way from the ground up. It’s bee health.
Why Bee Health Matters So Much
No matter where you fall in the food debate, bees do far more for our food system than just craft delicious honey. They are the hidden heroes of the food chain, acting as vital on-farm partners whose pollinator services are essential to produce one out of every three bites of food we eat. According to the Xerces Society, these ecological services in the U.S. alone are worth more than $3 billion a year. And globally, bees are required for more than 2/3 of the world’s crops to successfully reproduce.
But there's a problem: a combination of factors (disease, pesticide use, and habitat destruction) are threatening bee populations, which have been in alarming decline in recent years.
I dive deeper into all of this in my Clean Eating Magazine column this month, where I'm sharing some of the top reasons why pollinators are so crucial to our entire food system. You'll also discover 4 steps you can take right now to shift to a more bee-friendly diet and lifestyle. So be on the lookout for the June 2017 issue!
But 2017 marks the year that everyone-from farmers to food companies to think tanks-seem to be sounding the alarm. While the EPA has also recently stepped up actions on pollinator health, food companies are moving even faster, making large scale public commitments to protect our precious pollinators. Some, such as Justin's Nut Butter founder Justin Gold, have made it their company's cause celebre.
This is a good thing. Because unlike many of the harder-to-wrap-your-head-around issues with sustainable diets, here are 4 reasons bees are such an incredibly opportunity for the food industry:
4 Reasons Why the Food Industry Should Care About Bee Health
1. The urgency of bees connects with eaters of all ages. Bees and Butterflies? It doesn’t get simpler or more delightful than that! Kids can easily latch on and understand, opening the door to communicate and connect with new audiences.
2. The urgency of bees connects with companies of all sizes. Bees are an opportunity for larger companies to leverage that size and scale to do some real good by making public commitments to help bees thrive on the considerable acreages they influence. For instance, Haagen Daaz is now sourcing 100% its almonds from bee-friendly certified almond farms in California.
3. The urgency of bees is the perfect ground for public-private partnerships that can scale faster. Cascadian Organic Farms announced a partnership with the well-respected, highly credible Xerces Society to plant 100,000 acres of pollinator habitat. White Wave Foods has also partnered with Xerces Society to support pollinator health throughout their supply chain. These types of partnerships could be just the tip of the iceberg, as bees are a unique spot where food also overlaps with habitat and animal conservation. Think of the dozens of organizations and millions of members who might be galvanized to care and shop differently.
4. The urgency of bees can unleash new product innovation. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we had snack or breakfast options loaded with nutritional goodness of cover crops (like millet, rye or barley), rather than just refined corn and wheat? Planting more diverse crops and utilizing cover crops holds the potential to boost human health, as well as create new revenue streams for farmers and companies for companies. Chef’s like Dan Barber are already keen on this opportunity. Forward-thinking companies should be, too.
Why Bee Health is Important to Consumers, the Food Industry and the Planet
In other words, bee health is much more than just a feel-good PR move. Done right, it offers a key strategy to bring consumers along on the journey to do better. And prioritizing this strategy can help companies stay innovative while also shoring up supply chains and increasing resilience in a changing world.
I’ve been fortunate this year to get a firsthand look at how pollinator health is impacting the food and health conversation; from organic produce all the way up to that indulgent scoop of chocolate-covered almond ice cream. While there are still questions to be worked out- “Will there be “bee friendly” certification?” “Will consumers have to pay more?” - it’s an exciting space that’s poised to shake up the entire food system. And, dare I say perhaps even more than all those meatless burgers.
(Disclosure: I have attended two sponsored press-trips on pollinator health, hosted by Cascadian Organic Farms and Haagen Daaz respectively, in the past 12 months).