My beloved beehive died this year after five successful seasons, so it was with some trepidation that I decided to watch “Lawyers, Guns and Honey,” the first episode of Netflix’s original documentary, Rotten. Just what I needed to see, I thought, the wonders of bees, as I looked out at my empty, silent hive. But I will tell you, after five minutes, I was immersed, shocked, dismayed.
So here are some sobering facts. Worldwide, honey demand has been rising exponentially, while globally the productivity and number of hives have been falling sharply as more and more environmental issues arise to confront bee populations. Yet the amount of honey on the market continues to increase. How could this be, you ask? Simple answer: adulteration. A number of countries in Asia, in particular China, are dumping vast quantities of honey on the US market. More often than not, these honeys are adulterated with rice-based sugar syrups, which are hard to detect in the tiny amount of testing that goes on. So chances are the honey you buy in the supermarket is not what it claims to be. Worse, this dumping has actually driven down US honey prices, forcing American producers to rely on fees they receive when they ship their hives to farms in the spring to supply pollinators for food crops.
As it turns out, this trucking process involves a staggering 80% of all US hives, and a large majority of these wind up together in California’s central valley pollinating almond trees, which is one of the fastest growing (and most ecologically harmful in terms of water usage) sectors in California agriculture. This annual concentration of bees results in exactly what you would expect if you concentrated 80% of the US human population in one place: the perfect vector for disease transference. In addition to the damage, abuse and destruction the bees endure in the shipping process, they all come together once a year in California to intermingle maladies and parasites from every corner of the US.
Oh, and then there is the issue of pesticide exposure in the commercial fields…
No wonder the bees are in such trouble.
There is a very simple answer to all this: Buy local honey! Period. Make it so your local or regional honey producers don’t have to ship their bees all over the country just to stay financially afloat. Or better yet, get a hive of your own.
I’ve already ordered my replacement (two actually, after watching this) for the spring.
So what rotten tale is next in Rotten? Well, I have watched part of the episode on garlic, which I will be commenting on next, as it involves — unbelievably — a garlic cartel that uses prison labor to peel bulbs for US import.