Anyone who has had a good look at the beekeeping section of my website, will realise that generally, I prefer to advocate natural beekeeping - or api-centric beekeeping techniques. But what about my view of commercial beekeepers and beekeeping practice? Well……I am aware that some people think of commercial beekeepers as a load of uncaring villains, but I do NOT judge them negatively at all. Some people may find the following a little hypocritical, but I hope you’ll read to the end.
With regard to my personal view, I would say that all beekeeping is, at the end of the day, a form of domestication of bees, and on a personal level, as I said before, I am most supportive of the natural beekeeping methods, with bees building their own comb, and keeping pharmaceuticals produced by the likes of Bayer, out of the hive.
I will hold up my hand and say that years ago, I could be quite negatively judgemental about commercial beekeeping. In more recent years, I dropped my judgement completely as my understanding grew.
At the end of the day, it is still the case that most people (and I’m talking about the every-day person in the street) need to purchase almonds and other nut, fruit and vegetable crops (i.e they don't grow their own produce).
They may also want the convenience of buying ready-made fruit muffins, preserves and pies, or at the very least, fresh fruit, nuts and vegetables from retailers, because quite simply, not everyone is in a position to be able to grow their own produce and be self-sufficient for a whole year.
Commercial beekeepers are people who provide a service that is part of a much bigger system of agriculture, retail, consumer demand, food industry etc which in turn interacts with government and legislators.
In this huge and complex system, the commercial beekeeper is an extremely vital but very, very tiny cog, and hardly the villain - rather a mere player in a system commercial beekeepers themselves did not create. In my experience, I have come across commercial beekeepers who obviously care about their bees - heck, they rely on them for a living, to feed their families and pay their expenses.
Meanwhile, those who do not approve of commercial beekeeping, could take a look at their shopping cart to see what they are buying. Are they willing to pay a higher price to support better farming practices?
Are they prepared to pay a premium price for honey - and buy real honey, not cheap honey combined with corn syrup, or imported cheaply - but possibly contaminated?
I would also say that a small team of independent campaigners across the world (including myself), were the first people to start raising awareness of neonicotinoids and their danger to bees, and this group consisted primarily of beekeepers of all types, including commercial beekeepers, who were the first to sound the alarm about neonicotinoids, because of their direct experience of what was happening to their bees on a major scale.
For example the likes of Tom Theobald, has personally put
his head above the parapet in speaking out against huge multinationals such as
Bayer CropScience and Syngenta. The welcome intervention of conservation
organisations came later.
The reason for this? Clearly, wild bees are not so closely monitored as honey bees – I have written more about this on my page: why do honey bees and beekeepers matter?
Few people who live in an industrialized country, can operate outside the system entirely. If they have to go to the hospital, they are using the system. If they need the dentist, they are using the system. Because hospitals and dentists rely on a plethora of suppliers and an infrastructure, in order to exist - just as farming, including pollination services, must rely on its infrastructure.
And so in summary, I would say this: I have put out my personal preference for the small scale beekeeper, but I don’t think it’s helpful to demonize any beekeepers at all, whatever their practices, and that includes those who operate commercially.
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