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Honey-Do List at Bee Facility Now Shorter, Thanks to $100,000 Haagen-Dazs Donation

February 19, 2008

Photo: bee on flower

Haagen-Dazs' gift will allow UC Davis to hire a postdoctoral research fellow to study honey bee biology. (Kathy Keatley Garvey/UC Davis photo)

The "honey-do" list at UC Davis' newly revitalized Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility is now shorter, thanks to a $100,000 research donation from ice cream maker Haagen-Dazs to address the recent decline in the bee population.

The funds will aid research into sustainable pollination and a devastating phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder, and will support a postdoctoral researcher, said Walter Leal, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology.

"Honey bees are in trouble," Leal said. "One-third of our nation's food supply depends on bee pollination, but bees are vanishing in massive numbers. This gift will help us to rebuild and revitalize our honey bee program." Retirements and budget cuts decimated the program during the 1990s.

Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is characterized by bees unexpectedly abandoning their hives, said apiculturist and Cooperative Extension specialist Eric Mussen of the Laidlaw facility. "Of the 2.24 million colonies in the United States, beekeepers routinely lose 20 to 25 percent annually," Mussen said, "but CCD has increased the numbers."

Haagen-Dazs is launching a national campaign today, Feb. 19, to create awareness for the plight of the honey bee. The company says nearly 40 percent of its ice cream flavors are linked to fruits and nuts pollinated by bees.

In California, for example, the agricultural industry produces almonds, alfalfa, sunflowers, tree fruit and many other crops that rely on bees for pollination each spring.

As part of the "Haagen-Dazs Loves Honey Bees" campaign, the company has created a new flavor of ice cream, Vanilla Honey Bee, available starting today; committed a combined $250,000 for bee research to UC Davis and Pennsylvania State University; formed a seven-member scientific advisory board; and launched a Web site, http://www.helpthehoneybees.com to offer more information on the "unstung heroes."

Leal said that half of the $100,000 gift to UC Davis will be used to hire a Haagen-Dazs Postdoctoral Research Fellow in honey bee biology. "We will immediately conduct a high-profile international search," he said, "and the successful candidate will work at the Laidlaw facility for one year conducting problem-solving research in honey bee biology, health and pollination issues."

Haagen-Dazs will fund the salary, while the UC Davis Department of Entomology will provide partial matching funds to support other expenses. Leal said future financial support will be contingent on research progress and availability of funds.

Haagen-Dazs brand manager Josh Gellert said that without honey bees, it would be "tough to source and produce" ice cream. By working with UC Davis and Penn State, "we hope to take steps toward finding ways to increase the honey bee population and educate consumers on how they can take part in helping save the honey bees."

The Vanilla Honey Bee flavor will include a trademarked "Haagen-Dazs Loves Honey Bees" icon, as will all other flavors linked to bee pollination. A portion of the proceeds from sales of all the bee-linked flavors will be used to help the honey bees through university research.

Once a powerhouse in bee biology research, the UC Davis program declined during the 1990s as faculty retirements and budget shortages collided. With California's honey bee industry now facing challenges ranging from mites to small hive beetles to colony collapse disorder, rebuilding the 65-year-old program has become critical.

In fact, the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility team is growing. "We just finished conducting interviews Jan. 31 for a bee pollination biologist," Leal said. The new hire will join Mussen; bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, Laidlaw facility manager, who joined the team last May; and native pollinator researcher and emeritus professor Robbin Thorp.

The Laidlaw teaching and research facility is considered one of the finest and oldest in the country. Active bee research began on the UC Davis campus in 1925. Today UC Davis serves as a key center of research, teaching, graduate training and extension activities in apiculture and bee biology in the UC system, Leal said. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranks the UC Davis Department of Entomology No. 1 in the nation.

The newly formed Haagen-Dazs Ice Cream Bee Board includes three UC Davis scientists: Mussen, Cobey and Michael Parrella, professor of entomology and an associate dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. The board will advise company officials on scientific issues, announce new research findings and educate the public on ways to help save the honey bee.

Said Parrella: "The Haagen-Dazs brand and UC Davis have a shared goal of preserving our local natural ingredients in a sustainable future, and their donation to the Laidlaw facility will help us reach our goals through advances in research and community awareness programs."

California State Beekeepers' Association president Jackie Park-Burris of Shasta County said of the Haagen-Dazs gift: "We're so happy that industry is recognizing the issues that the bees and beekeepers face." Park-Burris said the gift "is an example of what a business can do, and maybe more businesses will get involved. It's exciting that the honey bee program at UC Davis is being rebuilt and revitalized."

Beekeepers say the general public can help save the honey bees by planting bee-friendly gardens, educating others about the honey bee decline, buying U.S. honey and supporting research to help preserve the nation's food supply.

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