3

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Environmental effects of honey production; save the bees!

Answered on October 17, 2014
Created September 14, 2012 at 8:29 AM

I've been buying a fair amount raw honey from a nearby farm this summer and using it as an energy source to sustain a lot of of intense physical activity. I'm not really looking to discuss the health benefits or risks of this, but I was curious about the environmental impact of honey.

There's a quote that if bees disappeared from the planet, humans would be dead in 4 years (it's dubiously attributed to Einstein). While this quote may not be entirely accurate, bees undoubtedly play an important ecological role and the recent decline of bee populations has been met by serious concerns among a number of scientists (if you disagree with this feel free to voice your opinion).

My question is what role does the honey industry play in this? Does purchasing local honey support bee populations? Or could beekeeping, like with salmon farms, ultimately damage the wild version of the animals being raised?

11b7b7ba720a5cd43c74a0ef99a16adb

(3448)

on September 14, 2012
at 07:43 PM

The problem is bigger than this. The bee population shortage is so severe in the USA that we--literally--transport bees around the country in tractor-trailer trucks to pollinate crops. One week they'll be in GA, the next week they'll be packed up, transported across the country to pollinate crops in Calif, and then they'll be transported across the country again to pollinate crops in NY. In the not-so-distant future the question of "how long could humans survive without bees" might not just be academic.

F5a0ddffcf9ef5beca864050f090a790

(15515)

on September 14, 2012
at 03:37 PM

Plus I think cellular phone coverage (you can even use phones on mount Everest now) are doing something to flying insects.

F5a0ddffcf9ef5beca864050f090a790

(15515)

on September 14, 2012
at 03:36 PM

I don't have an answer, but my guess is wild bees are dying off because of the same reason as lions and tigers. I actually hate wasps. I love bumblebees but... they are dying out. I don't see as many around. So sad...

E36cb992cf0a5eba8b97a359c15f38b3

(4347)

on September 14, 2012
at 03:04 PM

VB- Yeah, sure. For a long time I didn't know they weren't bees either. :) Anyway, I think that the wild bee issue is a real one. I wonder if the decrease in population is due to pesticides or non-local bees from the bee industry taking over the food sources? I'm really interested in this subject, either way.

F5a0ddffcf9ef5beca864050f090a790

(15515)

on September 14, 2012
at 02:17 PM

@ Trelow - This planet will be still alive and well even after humanity is gone. Blue green algae, dinosaurs, humans - the process in inevitable.

F5a0ddffcf9ef5beca864050f090a790

(15515)

on September 14, 2012
at 02:14 PM

Thank you very much for all this info about wasps. They were the first that came to my mind because ... they look like bees a bit. I think they are taking over wild bees niche, because the number of bumblebees is reducing.

E36cb992cf0a5eba8b97a359c15f38b3

(4347)

on September 14, 2012
at 12:48 PM

Re: wasps-- I don't think that's a good comparison. Wasps occupy a completely different part of the ecosystem than honeybees. (They're not actually bees at all.) Sure, some wasps drink nectar as adults, but wasps such as yellowjackets are omnivorous and eat fallen fruit as well as carrion. Generally speaking wasps are not pollinators--they're natural pest-control (at least the parasitic species). There are some notable exceptions, such as fig wasps. (Fun factoid: Not all fig varieties need fig wasps--many western varieties are self-pollinating.)

0e2bd01a4b24c10af91033fe5dcf3b07

(324)

on September 14, 2012
at 11:19 AM

+1 for bee keeping is a good thing. -2 for reduce the number of humans.

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4 Answers

3
E36cb992cf0a5eba8b97a359c15f38b3

on September 14, 2012
at 12:48 PM

Buying from the honey industry is different (generally speaking) from buying local, raw honey. The majority of our food crops are pollinated by bees that are transported hundreds of miles, essentially in crates. I do not keep bees, but I know several people who do; they speculate that much of the bee die-off is related to this transport and long-term stress of the honeybees used in agriculture.

On the other hand, locally keeping bees to pollinate one's own crops and local flower populations is environmentally friendly and sustainable. In my area there are a ton of local apiaries begun for the purpose of keeping the local bee population healthy and for pollinating local (not national or regional) plants used in food production (along with the flowers, etc.).

1
32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41747)

on September 14, 2012
at 01:50 PM

The problem is that domestication takes its toll on survivability over time. European honey bees aren't exactly hardy either, so it's become quite a mess... particularly where domesticated bees have displaced native pollinators.

It's rather surprising to see how few honey bees there are around nowadays. When I was a kid, you couldn't go outside barefoot without stepping on bees. The wild colony that lived nearly my childhood home died off a few years ago, and attempts to restart seem to all fail in the first winter. Sad really.

1
F5a0ddffcf9ef5beca864050f090a790

(15515)

on September 14, 2012
at 08:49 AM

I am actually thinking bee farms is a good thing. I am sure there used to be more wild bees in nature one hundred years ago or more, but since most of the land was developed during industrial/postindustrial revolution, like with all wild animals and insects, the inhabitable area of wild bees was greatly reduced.

The alternative to bee keeping would be re-introducing wild bees into their natural environment. Just like an alternative to decreasing number of wild boars would be breeding woolly pigs. Not too many people are interested in doing it.

However, bee farming, when done responsibly and sustainably, is a good alternative to having wild bees around, although not ideal. Domestic bees take away jobs from wasps and other competitors because "somebody has to". The ideal situation would be greatly reducing the number of human beings on this planet, and it is not going to happen for another two hundred years (at least).

Good question. I don't have an answer, just an opinion :)

F5a0ddffcf9ef5beca864050f090a790

(15515)

on September 14, 2012
at 02:17 PM

@ Trelow - This planet will be still alive and well even after humanity is gone. Blue green algae, dinosaurs, humans - the process in inevitable.

F5a0ddffcf9ef5beca864050f090a790

(15515)

on September 14, 2012
at 03:36 PM

I don't have an answer, but my guess is wild bees are dying off because of the same reason as lions and tigers. I actually hate wasps. I love bumblebees but... they are dying out. I don't see as many around. So sad...

0e2bd01a4b24c10af91033fe5dcf3b07

(324)

on September 14, 2012
at 11:19 AM

+1 for bee keeping is a good thing. -2 for reduce the number of humans.

F5a0ddffcf9ef5beca864050f090a790

(15515)

on September 14, 2012
at 03:37 PM

Plus I think cellular phone coverage (you can even use phones on mount Everest now) are doing something to flying insects.

F5a0ddffcf9ef5beca864050f090a790

(15515)

on September 14, 2012
at 02:14 PM

Thank you very much for all this info about wasps. They were the first that came to my mind because ... they look like bees a bit. I think they are taking over wild bees niche, because the number of bumblebees is reducing.

E36cb992cf0a5eba8b97a359c15f38b3

(4347)

on September 14, 2012
at 03:04 PM

VB- Yeah, sure. For a long time I didn't know they weren't bees either. :) Anyway, I think that the wild bee issue is a real one. I wonder if the decrease in population is due to pesticides or non-local bees from the bee industry taking over the food sources? I'm really interested in this subject, either way.

E36cb992cf0a5eba8b97a359c15f38b3

(4347)

on September 14, 2012
at 12:48 PM

Re: wasps-- I don't think that's a good comparison. Wasps occupy a completely different part of the ecosystem than honeybees. (They're not actually bees at all.) Sure, some wasps drink nectar as adults, but wasps such as yellowjackets are omnivorous and eat fallen fruit as well as carrion. Generally speaking wasps are not pollinators--they're natural pest-control (at least the parasitic species). There are some notable exceptions, such as fig wasps. (Fun factoid: Not all fig varieties need fig wasps--many western varieties are self-pollinating.)

0
01114547678b001f3e52cc3a9d343fd1

on October 17, 2014
at 06:09 PM

Fuck the Environment! I'll save myself first, then worry about the environment.

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