The Bee Lab Takes on a Big Threat to Bees

September 26, 2017
Dixon, Nicola
Associate Director, General Mills Foundation, General Mills Foundation

People know how to protect themselves from disease, but what about bees?

Varroa mites are one of the most significant threats to honey bee health today.

If beekeepers do not manage their colonies to reduce mite levels, there is a 90 to 95 percent chance the colony will die within two years or sooner from the effects of the mites and the bee viruses they vector.

For National Pollinator Week, we’re featuring the fight against the mites in this video, which showcases the work of the University of Minnesota’s Bee Lab.

“Mites multiply quickly and spread bee viruses from bee to bee,” says Dr. Marla Spivak, professor of Entomology at the University of Minnesota. “The spreading of Varroa mites causes a pronounced economic impact on the beekeeping industry, greatly impacting agricultural production in Canada and the United States.”

Turns out, the bees need a little help. The only way to control the deadly effects of viruses is to control the mites.

Enter the Bee Squad.

That’s the name of the University of Minnesota’s program to help beekeepers and the community foster healthy bee populations and pollinator landscapes through education and hands-on mentorship.

In 2015, farmer, beekeeper and Bee Squad team member, Keith Johnson, developed a marketable mite testing kit based on the University of Nebraska’s non-destructive testing method called the “powdered sugar roll” to allow beekeepers to monitor their bees for mites.

Powdered sugar, you ask?

Believe it or not, powdered sugar dislodges the mites from the bees, allowing beekeepers to estimate the mite population present in a colony – without harming the bees

“We want happy, healthy bees,” says Johnson. “Beekeepers testing their bee colonies for Varroa mites will have a very positive impact on pollinator health.”

Volunteers from General Mills headquarters assembled more than 400 Varroa Mite Testing Kits during Earth Week in April, which will be distributed to beekeepers in the Bee Lab network.

“Bee health is extremely important for General Mills, as part of our effort to advance sustainable agriculture, which is why we support the University of Minnesota Bee Lab’s vast research and development efforts,” says Mary Jane Melendez, executive director of the General Mills Foundation.

General Mills and our brands have many efforts underway worldwide to increase biodiversity and improve pollinator health. We also partner with the USDA and the Xerces Society, the international nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitats.

“Pollinators enable so many of the ingredients that go in to making food people love, so supporting bees and pollinators just makes sense,” said Jerry Lynch, chief sustainability officer at General Mills. “Partnering with organizations like the Xerces Society, USDA and the University of Minnesota’s Bee Lab allow us to do more work on behalf of pollinators across our value chain.”

It’s hard not to be intrigued by bees, especially since they are responsible for so many of our favorite foods – like fruits, nuts, honey and even vegetables. Bees and other native pollinators are instrumental in agriculture – 35 percent of crop production worldwide depends on pollinators.

Keeping bees healthy is a priority for General Mills which is why we fund pollinator research to better understand why bees are in decline, invest to conserve and expand bee habitats, and work with our suppliers to improve the health and effectiveness of bees.

“It’s wonderful to have a partner who cares about bee health, and one who understands the connection between bees, our food and food quality,” Spivak says.

Learn more about our work to protect pollinators in the Responsibility category here on “A Taste of General Mills,” or in our 2017 Global Responsibility Report on