By Julia Guest
Häagen-Dazs ice cream gave UC Davis and Penn State a quarter of a million dollars to study the disappearance of honeybees. How are honeybees and ice cream related, one might ask — and why did Häagen-Dazs decide, like BP, to fund the University of California?
Forty percent of Häagen-Dazs’s ice cream flavors rely on the sugary sweetness from honeybees. Honeybees, for a reason Häagen-Dazs hopes UC Davis and Penn State will determine, are becoming more and more scarce.
According to Diane McIntyre, media spokesperson for Häagen-Dazs, the ice cream company fears that a loss of honeybees will mean a loss of those ice cream flavors. The company, in turn, recently launched a “Save the Honeybee” campaign, which aims to explain what is called the honeybee “Colony Collapse Disorder” (CCD) and inform the public about how to help. The research funding is part of this campaign.
Recent university research findings linked the Colony Collapse Disorder with a honeybee virus infection called Israeli acute paralysis, according to an article in Mid-County Post. The virus was found in 96 percent of unhealthy bee colonies. This virus report is novel to the United States and is not the only reason, researchers believe, for the Colony Collapse Disorder. UC Davis and Pennsylvania State University are working to find other causes.
UC Davis is one of the leading institutions studying the honeybee issue, which is why Häagen-Dazs provided them funding. McIntyre said Häagen-Dazs is involved in rebuilding their science programs to support the honeybee campaign.
Although UC Davis, part of a public institution, receives private research funding from Häagen-Dazs, a private corporation, administrators from both Häagen-Dazs and UC Davis see their research partnership as a purely public gain.
“It’s for UC Davis to decide what the best course of action is for research,” McIntyre said. “We’re using the power of the Häagen-Dazs brand because ice cream is something everyone loves, and we hope to spread awareness about what’s happening [to the honeybees].”
Walter Leal, professor and chair of the entomology department at UC Davis, is grateful for the Häagen-Dazs fund because it will allow the university to hire an expert on the CCD. “The Häagen-Dazs fellowship will bring someone to work specifically on the CCD project,” Leal said. “We’re hoping to get someone fresh out of a Ph.D. program, someone hungry to work on something.”
With UC campuses accepting funds from private companies, UC Regent Frederick Ruiz commented on the issue of privatization raised by those actions.
“I’m not an advocate that the regents should tell UC what grants they should receive or what companies they should seek funding for various projects from,” Ruiz said. “But I think each campus can take responsibility for making sure that the research they are doing and the companies they are working for truly add value to the quality of life.”
Leal said that UC Davis has no obligation to report its research back to Häagen-Dazs. “They are giving us a gift,” he said.
McIntyre sees it only slightly differently: “Part of the partnership agreement is that what they [UC Davis, Penn State] learn will be shared. UC Davis is a land-grant school, which requires that what they learn in research is shared publicly.”