The Sharks Get Stung

by on February 15, 2016 at 7:25 am in Economics, Television | Permalink

On Friday, Shark Tank, the investment television show, featured two nice ladies from Minnesota and their product Bee Free Honee, honee made from apples. Is cheap, vegan honee a good idea? Perhaps but I was less than convinced by one of the arguments the ladies made for their honee–it will save bees! The ladies argued that reducing the demand for honey will encourage bee farmers to not work the bees so hard thus increasing their numbers.

bee jobI was expecting the acerbic Kevin O’Leary to have a field day with this economic fallacy. Or maybe, I thought, Mark Cuban will throw a dash of common sense into the tank. But no, all the Sharks cooed about this mad scheme. So it is up to me.

Reducing the demand for honey, reduces the demand for honey bees. A cheap, high-quality substitute for honey doesn’t mean a world of bees gently pollinating flowers in an idyllic landscape it means a beepocolypse. Bee free honee will save bees the same way the internal combustion engine saved horses.

Addendum 1You may be concerned about colony collapse disorder. Well, the commercial beekeepers are even more concerned and they have been adapting to CCD and maintaining honey production and pollination services. In fact, there are more bee colonies in the United States today (latest data) than there have been anytime in the last 20 years. CCD is still a problem but it’s the demand for honey and pollination services that incentivizes solutions to the problem. Remember, without honey it’s only a hobby.

Addendum 2:Perhaps the ladies have a sophisticated position on the repugnant conclusion but I doubt it.

Hat tip: Max.

1 Vivian Darkbloom February 15, 2016 at 7:58 am

I’m curious as to how beekeepers can make bees “work harder”. I have this mental picture of beekeepers racing around berating those bees for laziness, but perhaps there are other methods of encouragement. If there is a trick to getting somebody do something they are not otherwise inclined to do, it might be a very important lesson for managers in other fields.

Also, if this scheme really does allow bees to work less hard collecting nectar for honey, I guess that also means that the apple trees won’t be sufficiently pollinated. What doesn’t go around, doesn’t comes around.

2 prior_test February 15, 2016 at 8:29 am

‘can make bees “work harder”.’

Well, ‘work harder’ might not be the right answer, but in Germany, beekeepers have absolutely no problem feeding their bees sugar water. Which is even legal, so long as the honey is sold as ‘Blütenhonig/’flower’ honey’ (at least as explained by a couple of beekeepers – including one at a local reptile store, and the man that used to sell honey door to door in this region a decade ago).

Of course, as with so many examples of a free market without regulation, it is much cheaper to buy sugar bought in bulk and then sell it as honey, with the bees sipping from a bottle conventiently placed right at the entrance of the hive. Caveat emptor, right? Or else one might one be condemned to live in a socialist hellhole like Germany.

But truly, whether bees being fed little but white sugar is the same as exploiting their labor, or making them work too hard (or not hard enough, of course) is the sort of question that probably only interests vegans and devoted free market advocates like Prof. Tabarrok.

3 Vivian Darkbloom February 15, 2016 at 8:44 am

Nice diversion, but could you please make up your mind as to whether feeding bees sugar water makes them work harder or the exact opposite?

4 Axa February 15, 2016 at 9:03 am

I start by saying the topic gets really fast in to philosophical / biology territory where I’m mostly ignorant.

Bees make honey for rainy days and winter. Humans can eat honey because some varieties of bees produce more honey that is needed for the colony’s survival. Your question goes in the direction of what would happen if bees keep the excess honey. Where the bee’s motivation for work comes from? a) worker bee “instinct”, b) follow orders from queen bee. If the motivation to roam around flowers to collect pollen comes from “instinct”, it doesn’t matter if there’s lot’s of honey already stored at the hive. If the motivation comes from orders from the queen bee, I don’t know if the queen bee is aware enough to say “we have enough for the winter, take a break”.

However, the question may get a little more complicate once you look at the bee colony hierarchy. Worker bees are basically expendable, what (seems to) matters for survival is the health of the colony. Worker bees are like the blood cells we have that die to close an bleed. Those cells die but the human body survives the hemorrhage. Also those human blood cells could not survive by themselves. Worker bees are in a similar situation.

So, this is why I started why the reference to philosophy? Are workers bee an “organism” or is the colony the “organism”? If worker bees are just “cells” or a larger organism, do we have to care about their individual hedonic pursuits?

5 Mark Thorson February 15, 2016 at 12:14 pm

Although the queen has a central role in the hive, she doesn’t give orders. When I was a hobbyist beekeeper, a popular theory was that decision-making in the hive was performed by young adult bees, termed “control bees”. I don’t know what the current theories are, but I’d guess that the notion of control bees is projection of human organization onto bees. Decisions are probably made as an emergent property of individual interactions. There aren’t too many decisions that get made. The big one is when to throw off a swarm. That is probably the result of crowded conditions in the hive.

As far as honey harvesting goes, that helps prevent swarming. If no honey was harvested, the natural tendency of bees is to build up a hive’s numbers until it can afford the departure of a swarm to start a new hive somewhere else. When you harvest honey, you throttle back the bees ability to build up their numbers.

6 prior_test February 15, 2016 at 3:16 pm

Depends, I guess.

Obviously, the bees are being forced to manufacture a product based solely on the arbitrage between the price of white sugar and the price of honey, which would seem to mean that they are being overworked to serve the interest of the person taking the honey away, as compared to going about their natural existence.

On the other hand, since the sugar water tends to be placed right next to a hive entrance, one could argue that the bees were barely working at all to produce large amounts of honey, which then gets taken away from the hive. Returning to the point above.

However, replacing ‘overwork’ with ‘exploitation’ manages to take care of that seeming contradiction.

7 Hazel Meade February 15, 2016 at 9:10 pm

Do bees make more honey in response to “demand” ? Or does making more honey require a larger number of bee colonies?
I’m not sure that taking their honey “forces” the bees to “work harder” or simply impairs the functioning of the colony.
I would think the latter – if the beekeeper removes too much honey, the bees don’t worker harder to replace it, they just die.

But … that’s not what is causing CCD. It’s been pinned on neonicitinoid pesticides.

In other words, if a beekkeeper wishes to make more honey, there is no way to “overwork” the bees in order to produce it. The only thing he can do is buy more bee colonies.

8 prior_test February 16, 2016 at 1:25 am

‘Do bees make more honey in response to “demand” ?’

Yes – as noted below, when honey is removed, bees work to replace it.

‘I’m not sure that taking their honey “forces” the bees to “work harder” or simply impairs the functioning of the colony.’

Or both, of course.

‘In other words, if a beekkeeper wishes to make more honey, there is no way to “overwork” the bees in order to produce it.’

Well, the sugar water trick is one way to make more honey (the bees fly all of a meter back and forth), though as mentioned above, whether this constitutes ‘overwork’ is not exactly easy to define.

To an extent, this could be compared to sheep shearing – obviously, at one level, a sheep can only be sheared to its skin, and the only way to have more wool is to have more sheep. On the other hand, it is possible to shear sheep in a way that is not exactly beneficial to the sheep, especially if the weather is less than ideal.

9 Jeff R. February 15, 2016 at 10:07 am

If people can’t find anything better to do with their time than sell honey door to door, I suspect Germany is not the utopia you paint it to be.

10 prior_test February 15, 2016 at 3:11 pm

Well, sure – some 75 year old retired beekeeper selling honey from several hectares of forest sounds like a person living in hell to me, especially considering that he would pretty much empty a VW Passat full of honey in about a half day. Pretty much everybody knew him, and he tended to sell most of his honey to repeat customers (we alone were good for about about 5 500g jars in the spring and the fall – it was very good honey). He was undoubtedly poverty stricken, too, being forced to go chat with people he had been sellling his honey to for a decade or more, talking about how the bees were doing or what the honey contained more or less of this season (more or less pine, for example, due to a late/early and/or wet/dry winter/spring/summer).

Somehow, I get the feeling you might not know as much about the socialist hell hole that is Germany as you might think.

What is funny is how many places around here sell honey from a single beekeeper that the store owner knows (or in one case, the store owner is the beekeeper). Yep, it is truly a socialist hellhole, where even store owners need to sell their own honey, undoubtedly due to Germany’s horrible regulatory regime and unions.

11 Jeff R. February 15, 2016 at 3:42 pm

Oh my, how utterly quaint and romantic that you could purchase honey from a trusted, well known member of your no doubt very tightly knit local community. What a wonderful example of modern localism bringing people together! He sounds like the George Bailey of beekeepers. Where’s my passport? I’m headed for Germany! Look out, p_a!

12 Hazel Meade February 15, 2016 at 9:13 pm

Sounds like hell. Having nothing to talk about buy bees and their honey, all day long. Was he autistic? that might explain it.

13 prior_test February 16, 2016 at 12:18 am

‘Oh my, how utterly quaint and romantic that you could purchase honey from a trusted, well known member of your no doubt very tightly knit local community. What a wonderful example of modern localism bringing people together! He sounds like the George Bailey of beekeepers. Where’s my passport? I’m headed for Germany! Look out, p_a!’

He died about ten years ago, actually. Much like a lot of local things are dying out here. And he wasn’t local at all – his stretch of forest was about 30 miles further south. As for trusted? Well, the honey cost the same as in a store, and tasted better. As for the arsenic he used to control the mites in the hives? Yep, I trusted him on that.

Again, you really don’t have much idea of how things work here, do you? This tends to be a real problem when describing another country – who wants to write an essay that spends 2/3 of its length debunking the preconceptions of Americans.

As for heading for Germany – please do. You will find it different than whatever you expect, and people here won’t fit into your preconceptions.

14 prior_test February 16, 2016 at 12:30 am

‘Sounds like hell. Having nothing to talk about buy bees and their honey, all day long. Was he autistic? that might explain it.’

You do realize he only did the selling a couple of weeks (at most) during the year, right? Pretty much based on how much honey the bees produced, one should add. And that as he continued to get older, he began to limit his selling to people he had been selling to for years. Hard to imagine that a beekeeper felt his life was hell because he was continuing to feel himself a productive member of society at 75 while earning money selling his honey, but as always, commenters here have insights rarely found outside of this web site.

It is always fascinating to see the preconceptions that people have. Why would anyone think he would do this day after day (or need to do this day after day) escapes me utterly, to be honest. Then I remember that most commenters here are Americans, and the answer becomes a bit disturbing.

15 Nathan W February 17, 2016 at 8:58 pm

You could say the same of a thousand occupations in any country. Different people, different strokes. I doubt he was driven to it by desperation.

16 So Much For Subtlety February 15, 2016 at 5:57 pm

Vivian Darkbloom February 15, 2016 at 7:58 am

I’m curious as to how beekeepers can make bees “work harder”.

If you think of bees in their natural environment, they are not working for half the year. When the ground is covered in snow, there is precious little pollen to collect. Bees evolved to deal with this by collecting enough honey in the warm months to see them over the winter.

Bee keeping works by taking as much honey as possible without letting the bees starve. What you are doing is making sure the bees remain close to hunger. That will give them an incentive to collect more. If you leave them with too much, they will produce a lot of young Queens. If you take too much, they will die. If you take just the right amount they will work all the hours God gave and just make it through the winter. Presumably bees know if their stores are too low and work harder accordingly.

Added to which bees are often denied the winter break. These days people put hives on trucks and move them about the country. So they are like Canadian pensioners in that they all spend their winters in Florida. So they don’t even get a winter holiday. They have to work through.

Like everything else in farming, bee keeping is based on ruthless exploitation. It is just probably good for the species as a whole and maybe even for the individual. I expect that most hives coped with winter by letting a good few of their workers die for instance.

17 Hazel Meade February 15, 2016 at 9:21 pm

OP: one of the arguments the ladies made for their honee–it will save bees!

So Much For Subtlety:
If you leave them with too much, they will produce a lot of young Queens. If you take too much, they will die.

If you are taking just the right amount of honey to not kill the bees, then you aren’t “saving” any bees by taking even less.

18 Shmebulock, Crusher of Pussy February 15, 2016 at 10:57 pm

What kind of stinger goes in your honey pot?

19 Dominic February 18, 2016 at 4:23 am

Beekeeping works on collecting honey, and keeping the bees alive. Let’s take a hive in the wild for example. When the hive builds up a bunch of honey, and it gets crowded, it swarms, the queen leaves, takes about half the hive with her, and starts a new hive. And continues to work it’s butt off nonstop. The existing hive raises a new queen, and carries on. It’s not starvation, it’s just what they do. Bees only live about 35 days in the summer. You do realize that bees in warm climates never stop? Beekeeping is far from a slave labor endeavor, it’s more a labor of love, most keepers I know, myself included, feel responsible for every bee out there. Educate yourself.

20 dearieme February 15, 2016 at 8:01 am

I accuse you, Mr Tabarrok, of stereotyping dippy females. Surely you could at least have kept their sex secret? Though I suppose I should give you credit for not accusing them of being blonde.

21 JWatts February 15, 2016 at 9:44 am

LOL, at first I thought you were talking about the bees.

Those silly female drones, working their ass off for the matriarchy. /ducks

22 mhl February 15, 2016 at 9:45 am

Economic illiteracy does not discriminate, and in this example the gender descriptives used are not necessary to make his basic point. Mr. Tabarrok therefore probably didn’t give it much thought when deciding how to describe the individuals. Unless, of course, you have ESP.

23 Bob February 17, 2016 at 9:04 pm

I have ESP, but Tabbarok wasn’t interested in thinking about it when I tried to establish the connection. To busy doing something else.

24 KWebb February 15, 2016 at 8:03 am

I don’t really see O’Leary getting in the way for the perfect pitch for the crowd of people that would be interested in buying vegan honey substitutes.

25 Eric Johnson February 15, 2016 at 8:13 am

Exactly.

The show is at least partly about marketing these products to the public.

26 prior_test February 15, 2016 at 8:14 am

Vegan honey is an absurd idea. Mainly because seriously, who cares what a group of people decide to buy or not buy? Are yaks being threatened due to the lack of a yak butter market in America?

Especially no one should care who professes a love of the free market as providing the highest possible good in any question where one needs to take into account competing desires, and letting the market provide the superior answer.

Honey bees are an introduced species in North America, and having their numbers reduced would be beneficial to native species, something that a Canadian born North American might be somewhat less familiar with than North Americans coming from other, more southernly British colonies –

‘Currently, only seven species of honey bee are recognized, with a total of 44 subspecies,[1] though historically, from six to eleven species have been recognized. Honey bees represent only a small fraction of the roughly 20,000 known species of bees.

———————–

The first Apis bees appear in the fossil record at the Eocene–Oligocene boundary (34 mya), in European deposits. The origin of these prehistoric honey bees does not necessarily indicate Europe as the place of origin of the genus, only that the bees were present in Europe by that time. Few fossil deposits are known from South Asia, the suspected region of honey bee origin, and fewer still have been thoroughly studied.

No Apis species existed in the New World during human times before the introduction of A. mellifera by Europeans. Only one fossil species is documented from the New World, Apis nearctica, known from a single 14-million-year-old specimen from Nevada.’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honey_bee

One could snidely remark that being European bees, they expect to be protected from the free market, in the way so representative of socialist thinking.

That such bees can find a staunch defender from the potential working of the free market among the members of the GMU econ dept. is amusing, though.

Though I fully support Prof. Tabarrok in ridiculing vegans for their generally absurd mix of beliefs, being pretty much the only group of people who feel they have the moral high ground to shame vegetarians for not being involved in the killing of animals.

And for those on the cutting edge of vegan thinking (the honey issue is years old at this point), check out the current debate of whether products that involve yeast are vegan. As yeast is present in essentially all fruit, the idea that exploiting yeast for something like beer is not vegan, but eating an apple containing yeast, which are happily converting sugar to alcohol, is vegan is the sort of satire normally only found consistently at this web site. Find the links yourselves – the world of veganism is nowhere as entertaining to delve into than three decades of reliable amusement provided by law and economics and the Virginia School as presented at GMU – after all, I used to be paid to promote both, even as the entire PR dept. laughed at them (very privately, of course – we knew who was responsible for deciding to pay us in the end, and it wasn’t precisely the Commonwealth of Virginia – we didn’t have tenure, after all).

Though extremely occasionally, and again have fun doing your own searching, the more strict Jain sites discussing dietary rules will explore such themes with a thoroughness that makes veganism look like nothing but a shallow and fashionable moden affectation. Yes, there is a group of people who can still shame the vegans, but such is the free market in ideas.

27 zbicyclist February 15, 2016 at 12:47 pm

“Yes, there is a group of people who can still shame the vegans”

More proof of the law that there is always someone smarter, stronger, richer, faster, more attractive …. than you.

28 Kitty_T February 15, 2016 at 1:22 pm

I was actually wondering if there was going to be a “bee-beneficial” argument along the lines of “honeybeepocalypse would be great because invasive farmed European bees would stop crowding out our much more efficient native pollinators.”

29 GW February 15, 2016 at 8:22 am

Since the apple trees require bees for pollination, this doesn’t exactly get bees out of commercial honey production, it just passes the production down a longer line.

30 Michael Smitka February 15, 2016 at 8:28 am

And to push this further, bees are a business. If there’s less revenue from honey, then the price beekeepers charge orchards must rise, and hence the price of fruit.

Of course beegone honee may be empirically irrelevant, too small to have a real-world impact on honey prices.

31 Tom T. February 15, 2016 at 9:24 am

This is why many vegans eat regular honey. They acknowledge that there is essentially no way for humans to get fruit without exploiting bee labor, so no need to be coy about it. These women just see a profit opportunity, not a philosophical advance.

32 Axa February 15, 2016 at 8:35 am

A family member produces honey as a hobby. Once I heard him say that individual bees are like cells in the human body. The “real” organism is the colony, not individual bees since long-term survival depends on the health of the colony. It’s funny to listen to your uncle talk like the mini-Stalin of bees. Even tough, there’s something interesting in this particular view of bees. After all, in the bee hive rigid hierarchy, workers are as important for the queen bee as blood or skin cells for the human body. Perhaps this is the extreme opposite view to the idea the people in Shark Tank is selling, but I think you need to stop to think a little before advocating workers rights for individuals bees.

Also, the topic is really interesting. Honey is heavily demanded for Muslim’s Ramadan. As Muslim’s get richer, they behave like normal consumers once “premium” is in the label. They pay 50 USD or more for half a kilo of honey https://www.desertcart.ae/products/13060286-berestov-premium-honey-altai-buckwheat-500-gram-17-74-ounce Premium honey is 5x more expensive in the UAE compared to the US.

33 Jeff R. February 15, 2016 at 10:02 am

Arbitrage opportunity?

34 Too Late February 15, 2016 at 11:31 am

The idea that bees are like cells in the body and that the colony is the “real” organism has some basis. The bees are what is called “haplodiploid”, which means that the males have only one set of chromosomes instead of two. So the drones (females) are 75% related and therefore more related to each other than they would be to their offspring if they had any. In other words, from the point of view of a female it is evolutionary beneficial to help the queen make more sisters rather than to have offspring of her own. Likewise it pays (in terms of evolution) to sacrifice yourself to save even less than two sisters.

Of course this works also because the behavior of bees is entirely genetic. A bee doesn’t make conscious decisions. (Humans have culture, and that changes things quite a bit.)

In a human body, all cells are 100% related. That is why we consider the whole body the “real” organism. It is still not quite the same for the bee colony, but closer than for a human colony.

Like E.O. Wilson, himself a former Marxist and ant specialist, supposedly said, “Communism: great idea, wrong species.”

35 ladderff February 15, 2016 at 12:20 pm

“In a human body, all cells are 100% related. That is why we consider the whole body the “real” organism.”

Interesting. I’ll remember this one.

36 Brian Donohue February 15, 2016 at 5:39 pm

Except for roughly 4 pounds of mostly symbiotic bacteria.

You didn’t digest that!

37 Axa February 15, 2016 at 12:21 pm

Thanks for the actual knowledge. So, what is better for to maximize the queen having more sisters? Humans taking a fraction of honey but spreading the species or let nature run its course?

38 Chris s February 15, 2016 at 12:54 pm

“In a human body, all cells are 100% related.”

Not quite.

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/lab-rat/guest-post-i-am-my-mothere28099s-chimera/

39 Mark Bahner February 16, 2016 at 12:44 pm

“In a human body, all cells are 100% related.”

Actually, non-human cells are thought to outnumber human cells in the human body:

The human body…not 100% human

40 Mark Bahner February 16, 2016 at 12:47 pm

Oops. I didn’t see Chris S. had already made the same comment.

41 Ross Parker February 18, 2016 at 4:53 am

You say drones are female. I think you mean workers are female?

42 Roy LC February 15, 2016 at 8:57 am

So this is basically a version of Karo made from apples… Well image is everything, after all honey is craved by vegans because sugar, while utterly vegan, is supposedly pure evil.

But then the number of vegans I know capable of critical thought are remarkably few.

43 Tyle February 15, 2016 at 9:23 am

Yes, many people have very dumb ideas about food. Vegans of course form a small minority of such people. My guess would be that most demand for ‘vegan honey’ is not from people who are actually vegans, but from non-vegans with dumb ideas about food who somehow think that such honey is ‘purer’. This of course just heightens the absurdity…while veganism is philosophically defensible from lines of reasoning concerning animal suffering and its economics, thinking ‘sugar is evil’ (as many do) is just pure craziness.

Also, BTW, when I evaluate people that I have known along the dimension of critical thought, vegans are over-represented in the top decile. It surprises me that you have had the opposite experience.

44 Stuart February 15, 2016 at 10:07 am

+1.

I haven’t seen studies on veganism and IQ, but here is on one vegetarianism and IQ: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/15/AR2006121500499.html

There also may be several people you encounter or know who hide their veganism because people often inherently dislike veganism. Here’s some PPP polling on it: http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/pdf/2011/PPP_Release_NationalFOOD_022613.pdf

I know I hide my veganism, as do many other vegans I know. (Excluding when I’m being anonymous in the comments section). I don’t think many people, at least outside of LA, go vegan because it’s easy and popular.

If someone notices your food order is vegan and asks you about your diet – you’ll find out about the concept of “anticipated reproach”. People hear that someone is a vegan, and they fear they are morally inadequate by comparison, so they are quick to attack the perceived morality of the person or group. This is one reason why feminism is, like veganism, an unpopular term/group.

http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/brainiac/2011/08/why_moral_leade.html
http://spp.sagepub.com/content/early/2011/07/15/1948550611415695.full.pdf

45 jim jones February 15, 2016 at 10:43 am

People do get defensive when they find out you are vegetarian. Indians, on the other hand, are familiar with the concept and find it quite normal.

46 Jeff R. February 15, 2016 at 1:07 pm

“People hear that someone is a vegan, and they fear they are morally inadequate by comparison, so they are quick to attack the perceived morality of the person or group. This is one reason why feminism is, like veganism, an unpopular term/group.”

Yeah, that sounds like self-flattery if you ask me. The more likely scenario is people are a bit weirded out by acts of rather extreme self-denial aimed at, for example, reducing the number of dairy cows who have to suffer the horror of being milked.

47 Stuart February 15, 2016 at 1:20 pm

I think it can be quite rational to abstain from animal products if you care about climate change or animal welfare, but sure, I can see people can be weirded out by that rather than seeing it as rational.

I am “weirded out” by Catholics, who believe they are eating the flesh of Jesus every Sunday, but the difference is – I don’t lash out at Catholics when they reveal their faith to me. Why would people be more likely to do this upon hearing about a diet they find weird?

48 Jeff R. February 15, 2016 at 1:42 pm

There’s a difference in that Catholicism is based on a set of unverifiable claims about the divinity of Jesus, the virgin birth, the resurrection, etc. Veganism is based on a set of ethical claims which I’d assume you believe can be derived rationally from some first principles, based on your earlier post on the subject. Whatever these first principles might be, the ultimate proscriptions seem to be on pretty shaky ground, like “it’s wrong to care for sheep just so you can give them a shave now and then and spin their hair into yarn.”

49 Jeff R. February 15, 2016 at 2:25 pm

I’m not sure ethics falls into the realm of “verifiable claims” – as much as I’d like them to.

I’m not clear what you were saying here “the ultimate proscriptions seem to be on pretty shaky ground, like “it’s wrong to care for sheep just so you can give them a shave now and then and spin their hair into yarn.””

Meaning, shearing sheep and turning it into clothing is quite harmless, yet the principles of veganism would lead you to the conclusion it is morally wrong? Correct me if I misinterpreted that.

I don’t think if you went up to a wild sheep and snipped a piece of its hair then you did something immoral. But there is well-documented cruelty (video evidence, if you care to google it) in the wool industry. And we only know that because of whistleblowers who risk a lot to take that footage – it’s hard to know how humane the practices are of animal industries that fear people seeing how the animals are treated. And we’ve bred sheep to a point that they grow far more hair than they ever did in the wild – to the point it makes it inhumane not to shear them. We have bred turkeys to the point that they cannot procreate naturally.

Perhaps sheep could be raised ethically without cruelty or breeding them so that they suffer without human intervention, but I haven’t seen any evidence that is happening. The price of producing that kind of wool would be extremely high.

Not all vegans (who do it for ethical reasons) are rigid ideologues. That’s why they many are constantly working with McDonalds, Tysons, etc. to improve the conditions of slaughterhouses. Some are philosophically opposed to working for anything but absolute animal liberation, but that’s a very small minority.

50 Stuart February 15, 2016 at 2:31 pm

@Jeff R – sorry I meant address my comment @Jeff R but accidentally posted as “Jeff R”

51 Urso February 15, 2016 at 3:00 pm

There’s certainly a hint of self-flattery in the post. (“Vegans tend to be highly intelligent. For example, take myself…”) But his point about an anticipated reproach is a good one. I think vegetarians also feel pressure to come up with a “reason” for going veg – people are more at ease if you’re vegetarian for some objective reason (health?) as opposed to general moral sentiments.

52 Stuart February 15, 2016 at 3:37 pm

@Urso

You wrote “There’s certainly a hint of self-flattery in the post. (“Vegans tend to be highly intelligent. For example, take myself…”)”

I think you a referring to my post – correct me if I’m wrong. I did not intend my comment to come off the way you described. I was responding to a comment about vegans being, generally, ill-informed and unintelligent, which prompted me to share the study about vegetarianism and IQ to provide a counter example. And as I said, I don’t think there’s any study about vegans and IQ.

But I get that people think I’m trying to flatter vegans (and myself!) by defending veganism against comments like the one I described.

I agree with you about vegans coming up with reasons other than moral ones to avoid unpleasantness. I also don’t drink alcohol (how fun must I be to hang out with?!) – and I know in some circles it would be easier to say I’m a recover alcoholic than other explanations.

53 Bob from Ohio February 15, 2016 at 1:13 pm

“they fear they are morally inadequate by comparison”

I, an omnivore as Nature and Nature’s God intended, am morally superior to these vegan twits.

54 Cliff February 15, 2016 at 9:33 pm

Comparing veganism to feminism is where you go off the rails. People don’t dislike feminists because they think feminists are more moral, believe me.

55 Stuart February 15, 2016 at 11:23 pm

@Cliff

Regardless of what you think about feminism, the people who identify as feminist (I’ll define that term by using the definition google gives me: the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.) believe that is a moral/ethical position.

Simply identifying with a moral/ethical position, in my understanding, can trigger anticipated reproach – because people don’t tend to appreciate their peers publicly taking moral stances. It’s a buzzkill! I’m not saying veganism and feminism are similar other than that their follower believe they are taking moral stances, and that is what would invoke anticipated reproach.

You may have other reasons why people don’t like feminists (I have some theories on this as well) but I think the above reason is still a factor, even if it’s only one of many.

56 Roy LC February 15, 2016 at 12:13 pm

I have no problem with anyone’s dietary situation as long as they do not seek to impose it on others, but as to vegans and critical thought, most, and note I said most and not all, are of the sort who declare meat filled with “toxins”, object to “chemicals” etc… And then there are those, very few I know, who attempted to impose veganism on a cat.

Of course my experience has been colored by many years in San Francisco and the Pacific Northwest. Perhaps away from the Pacific coast of North America these are atypical behaviors. Outside of Indians though I have met few reasonable vegans.

57 Stuart February 15, 2016 at 12:27 pm

There are certainly millions of non-vegan Americans who have absurd, scientifically unsound ideas about nutrition beyond the few vegans you have met. I don’t think the vegan demographic has uniquely false views of nutrition compared to the general population.

But you personally have had quite an interesting experience with vegans based on your account. I haven’t met a single one who is worried about toxins/chemicals since there can easily be “toxins” and chemicals in any veggie burger or other vegan food. Most vegans I know do it for ethical reasons – which is why they try to avoid wearing leather, fur, etc. I do know some who do it purely for dietary reasons (there’s been a lot of new books/documentaries from this angle recently) but for reasons like “meat has no fiber, fiber is important” and because they feel like they have more energy – like former NBA player John Salley.

“Outside of Indians though I have met few reasonable vegans.” I hope you don’t let your past experiences with individual vegans prejudice you against someone you later meet who you find out is vegan.

58 Bob from Ohio February 15, 2016 at 1:18 pm

“Most vegans I know do it for ethical reasons”

If there was no beef or milk consumed, there would be no cows. Cowocide advocates are not ethical.

59 Stuart February 15, 2016 at 1:35 pm

@Bob

Fair point – you are concerned about animals ethics but come out to a different conclusion. My point was just to say the people I’m speaking about do it because they believe it’s ethical – not that I’m arguing here that it is in fact ethical. I could provide the other side to the “cowocide” argument but I’d guess that would not be very constructive or interesting.

But I’m glad hear from someone concerned about the ethical treatment of animals! We disagree on cows but I’m sure we have some common ground elsewhere on this topic.

60 prior_test February 15, 2016 at 2:56 pm

‘If there was no beef or milk consumed, there would be no cows.’

Hundreds of millions of Hindus would likely differ with you on that point.

‘Cowocide advocates are not ethical.’

They do agree with that point, though would likely be bewildered at the connection you think exists.

61 JB February 15, 2016 at 1:04 pm

I have met very few reasonable people, and many vegans who are quite unreasonable.

In very few cases, however, is their veganism the cause of, or even a unique product of, their unreasonableness.

The people I know who are most concerned about BS like “toxins” are pretty heavy meat eaters.

62 Gavin February 17, 2016 at 1:50 pm

Honey and sugar in and of themselves are simply differing combinations of two items: Glucose and fructose.

Enzymes in your stomach cannot break down the glucose-fructose structure of table sugar until it reaches the small intestine. Then the liver utilizes a few enzymes to convert the molecules into glucose that is able to enter the bloodstream for further use.

Honey is different because of the enzymes that are added to the nectar by bees that divide the sucrose into the two simple sugars known as fructose and glucose. These sugars are directly absorbed by our bodies and are easier to digest. Additionally, about 25 different oligosaccharides have been detected in the composition of honey.

The difference between the digestion of honey compared to the digestion of sugar lies in the composition of enzymes in each of these products.

When vegans assert that honey is different than table sugar… Yes, that’s true. But only in enzymes.

63 Nylund February 15, 2016 at 9:49 am

First off, I think the real demand for bees comes from crop pollination. Right now there’s a symbiotic relationship between many beekeepers and many farmers. Farmers get their crops pollinated, beekeepers get their honey. If you remove the honey market, a new relationship would have to develop. Point being, no honey collection does not equal no bees. There’s likely a competition between kept bees and wild bees. Get rid of the kept ones, and maybe the population of wild ones goes up as the dynamics of that competition change. There may also be a trade-off between numbers and health. Who knows? Maybe it means fewer bees, but healthier, more resilient hives? It may not be as simple as just quantity, but quantity and quality.

There is also evidence that some of the practices associated with modern industrial beekeeping are potential causes and/or sources of propagation of Colony Collapse Disorder. Yes, industrial beekeepers worry a lot about it and are doing a lot to combat it, but they may also be part of the problem. One can be both a source and remedy for a problem. Their work to fix the problem doesn’t mean that their net effect is positive. They could still have a net negative effect, despite their work on positive remedies.

The vegans I know who don’t eat honey have standard vegan reasons for not liking it. Many bees get killed by beekeepers during the process (accidentally and on purpose), and honey is “stolen” from the hive (aka, the hive’s winter food supply). There’s other details, mainly related to the way that industrial hives differ from natural ones in ways that are detrimental to the bees, stresses the hive, promotes parasite, mites, etc. They tend to favor the idea that farmers should promote a better relationship with naturally occurring wild populations. I used to share Alex’s feelings almost exactly. I read up on it, and my stance is still, “I don’t care about the lives of bees enough,” for it to matter, but I now understand their viewpoint and no longer mock their thought process. I’m now a lot less certain that bee populations benefit from our industrial honey system.

As an aside, I have family friends who make honey using only naturally occurring hives, careful not to “steal” so much honey that it puts the hive at risk over the winter. It’s way pricey, but super interesting honey (due to the differing diet of the wild bees. Their rationale isn’t so much to be nicer to bees (but that may be part of it), but rather a unique product, and a preference to pay the independent honey-collectors over the standard system. It also made me realize that industrial honey operations results in pretty boring honey (also mostly the result of their diet). It’s kinda like what you see with heirloom apples and tomatoes. As a consumer, I like the variety of product options.

Overall, if there are people who want to eat vegan honey, why not make a product for them, even if the manufacturer’s rationale is a bit iffy? I’d wager it’s too low of a percent of the market to matter one way or the other to bees.

I also think economists (of which I am one), promote negative stereotypes about themselves when they delve into areas outside their expertise, thinking that their thought about one economic aspect of an outside field is so important that they should feel comfortable mocking others who may know much more about the details of that particular field. Offering economic insights is valuable! Mocking others who may actually know more about a subject than you do? It’s not a flattering self-portrait for the profession to paint.

64 kb February 15, 2016 at 10:03 am
65 Bob from Ohio February 15, 2016 at 1:24 pm

” I’m now a lot less certain that bee populations benefit from our industrial honey system.”

Human populations do. They get cheaper honey.

Why do you hate poor people?

66 Nathan W February 17, 2016 at 9:23 pm

Poor people don’t eat honey if they’re poor enough to be worried about their poverty.

67 prior_test February 15, 2016 at 2:50 pm

‘but I now understand their viewpoint and no longer mock their thought process. I’m now a lot less certain that bee populations benefit from our industrial honey system.’

The viewpoint is pretty simple – exploitation of other living creatures by humans is immoral, as noted here – ‘Watson was born in Mexborough, Yorkshire, the son of a headmaster in a mining community, an environment in which vegetarianism, let alone veganism, was unknown.[1] As a child, Watson spent time on his Uncle George’s farm. The slaughtering of a pig on the farm horrified Watson; he said his view of farm life changed from idyllic to a Death Row for animals. Watson began to reassess his practice of eating meat. He became a vegetarian in 1924 at the age of fourteen, making a New Year’s resolution to never again eat meat. He gave up dairy about 18 years later, having decided the production of milk related products was unethical.

————————————————-

As Watson grew up, he did not smoke, consume alcohol, or make contact with foods or substances which he regarded as ‘toxins’. In the 1940s, after learning about milk production, he became a vegan.[1] He explained his motivation as ethical concern for sentient animals:
“We can see quite plainly that our present civilisation is built on the exploitation of animals, just as past civilisations were built on the exploitation of slaves, and we believe the spiritual destiny of man is such that in time he will view with abhorrence the idea that men once fed on the products of animals’ bodies”‘ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Watson

Whether that is mockable is certainly open to discussion, and it does seem high minded enough. But notice how the trend continues, from animals resembling us to a degree, to the current frontier of vegan thinking that yeast are being exploited when used to make beer or wine. Whether wild fermentation, as occurs with a number of Belgian beers, is acceptable for vegans still does not seem to have entered the discussion – oops, more of that mockery just slipped in.

However, our industrial honey production system is for the benefit of precisely one species, and it is not the bees. That part was fairly obvious, I would have thought, without requiring any vegan guidance.

68 Nathan W February 17, 2016 at 9:27 pm

Eventually, we will CRISPR in a gene to photosynthesize sunlight directly, and we will not have to eat anything. A few other things might have to change too though …

69 Hazel Meade February 15, 2016 at 9:31 pm

You want to try some interesting honey, try buckwheat honey. Super rich and flavorful.

70 prognostication February 15, 2016 at 10:07 am

I don’t even know where to leave this, but I’ll point out that another angle on this is that honey allergies are a real thing, even if severe reactions are rare.

71 Kevin Erdmann February 15, 2016 at 10:18 am

Shark Tank has had a guy on that sells bee colony start up kits, and that was part of his pitch. And Daymond John didn’t invest, but he bought a colony, and they had an episode where they went to Daymond’s house to talk about it.

72 Phil February 15, 2016 at 10:34 am

They called the product “bee free”… in a few years, when the world is free of bees, we’ll be able to look back and see that the endgame of their nefarious plot was right in front of us all along.

73 Ray Lopez February 15, 2016 at 10:38 am

Don’t post to this AlexT post!!! It’s a trap to get 100+ comments! He does that all the time. This post is of course a take on the Bernard Mandeville “Fable of the Bees” and numerous derivations thereof, showing among other things division of labor, invisible hand, and, in some modern renditions, that there are no externalities.

DON’T POST HERE! AlexT is trolling you!

74 Chris s February 15, 2016 at 12:57 pm

I am completely mystified by this comment.

75 Steve Sailer February 15, 2016 at 5:23 pm

Right, Mandeville’s 1714 literary work about the paradox of hard-working bees was a big inspiration for Smith’s “Wealth of Nations.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fable_of_the_Bees

76 Harry February 15, 2016 at 11:38 am

Wow! These 2 geniuses discovered they could produce sugar syrup from fruit. They certainly deserve support and encouragement. With some additional effort, they might discover how to produce sugar syrup from beets. That would truly be a “cheap, high-quality substitute for honey.”

They might begin with a search of the literature – much of the research and development has already been done, in their home state of Minnesota. They might also choose to familiarize themselves with concerns about fructose, but that is a topic for another discussion.

77 Miguel Madeira February 15, 2016 at 11:41 am

This is a bit off-topic, but is only a note to the people who are talking about “follow[ing] orders from queen bee” or “in the bee hive rigid hierarchy, workers are as important for the queen bee as blood or skin cells for the human body”:

The bee colonies are “proletarian dictatorships”, ruled by the worker bees (who communicate between them by chemical signs); when the queen bee” (the “sex and reproduction slave bee” is a more correct word) reduces her egg production. the worker bees kill her, and feed someof the larvae with a specific food to produce new queens.

78 Roy LC February 15, 2016 at 12:28 pm

But beets are not nearly so attractive, after all they are processed in refineries, of course “bee free honee” ™ already contains actual sugar, presumably from the rather nasty sugar beet. I note that their source of apples is Northern Michigan.

79 Cliff February 15, 2016 at 11:41 am

There are plenty of wild bees that are not going anywhere and are completely unaffected by CCD. CCD appears to be essentially a result of making the bees miserable by confronting them with pesticides and forcing them to pollinate the same crop over and over for long periods of time and trucking them around the country in boxes.

80 Harun February 15, 2016 at 12:33 pm

It was my understanding that there are no more wild bees, and that every bee you see is now domesticated.

(european honey bee at least.)

link?

81 Cliff February 15, 2016 at 2:21 pm

It definitely, definitely is not true that there are no more wild bees. I can’t distinguish European honey bees from other bees but there are plenty of wild bees around. We don’t all live within bee-flying distance of a bee farm. If you really need confirmation I have read this in articles about CCD since, as I noted, CCD does not affect wild bees at all. But I do not have a ready link for you.

82 prior_test February 15, 2016 at 2:33 pm

‘There are plenty of wild bees that are not going anywhere and are completely unaffected by CCD’

Essentially because most such bees do not live in hives, however. They also produce no honey, though they do do perform as pollinators.

However, recent research suggests that focusing on CCD may be a mistake – ‘Thus, the key question is how neonicotinoids influence bees, and wild bees in particular, in real-world agricultural landscapes11, 12, 13. Here we show that a commonly used insecticide seed coating in a flowering crop can have serious consequences for wild bees. In a study with replicated and matched landscapes, we found that seed coating with Elado, an insecticide containing a combination of the neonicotinoid clothianidin and the non-systemic pyrethroid β-cyfluthrin, applied to oilseed rape seeds, reduced wild bee density, solitary bee nesting, and bumblebee colony growth and reproduction under field conditions. Hence, such insecticidal use can pose a substantial risk to wild bees in agricultural landscapes, and the contribution of pesticides to the global decline of wild bees1, 2, 3 may have been underestimated. The lack of a significant response in honeybee colonies suggests that reported pesticide effects on honeybees cannot always be extrapolated to wild bees.’ http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v521/n7550/full/nature14420.html

83 Black Death February 15, 2016 at 11:43 am

This is just so rich. If the poor little bee dahlin’s are overworked, perhaps they should form a union. Then they could go on strike! Or maybe we could import honey from Mexico, where the bees work for less.

84 Ronald Brak February 15, 2016 at 12:14 pm

I will mention that the reason why the US has more bee colonies now than ever before is because of colony collapse. Apiarists keep more colonies on hand than they otherwise would because of the increased risk of losing some. And a portion of these colonies are mailed over from Australia, which fortunately has not yet suffered from colony collapse. We also have what is apparently the only pure colony of ligurian bees in the world on Kangaroo Island off South Australia. These are Italian bees ancient Rome used to get its honey from.

And I don’t know what it’s like in the United States, but here bees are quite happy to go feral and go into business for themselves. I had a feral colony living in a crack in the side of my house until someone stole it and probably mailed it to America. So if humans stop collecting bee honey it doesn’t mean we’ll be out of bees. I don’t even know how we could get rid of them from the arable parts of Austalia, unless maybe we start helping out the Australian native stingless bees by giving them little knives or something.

85 JB February 15, 2016 at 1:06 pm

There is something native to Australia that is stingless?

Mind blown.

86 So Much For Subtlety February 15, 2016 at 5:48 pm

We also have what is apparently the only pure colony of ligurian bees in the world on Kangaroo Island off South Australia. These are Italian bees ancient Rome used to get its honey from.

Pure? What were the Ligurian bees *not* interbreeding with before they were introduced to Australia? Specifically in the 1500 or so years between the collapse of the Roman Empire and White people bringing bees to Australia, what other species of bees were around for them to interbreed with and how has this been documented?

87 Ronald Brak February 15, 2016 at 10:56 pm

During the last glacial period the western honey bees in Italy differentiated into a sub-species which was physically and behaviourally distinct. By not interbreeding or at least not interbreeding enough with other bees they remained physically and behaviourally distinct until modern times. Some were brought to Kangaroo Island in 1884. This has been documented by bee nuts. The reason the ligurian bees were not hybridised to improve honey production as they were elsewhere probably comes down to there not being a bee nut on Kangaroo Island who was interested in doing so. There have never been very many people on Kangaroo Island. Later it was decided that the bees and the rest of the island’s ecology should be protected from any more introduced species.

88 Richard February 15, 2016 at 12:59 pm

The negotiations are seriously edited. You think that they make multi-million dollar deals within 10 minutes or so? They probably cutout any lecture.

89 Roger February 15, 2016 at 2:36 pm

The morality seems clear to me. Offering someone a job is a form of exploitation, as the capitalist benefits from the fruit of the worker. Seems the same to me for bees. Bee keepers are exploiting bees.

I am surprised progressives haven’t started a free the bees movement. May I suggest they use the name THE BEES NEEDS

90 Bill February 15, 2016 at 3:56 pm

Free the Bees!

91 Alex February 15, 2016 at 4:28 pm

Re Addendum 2: They probably are thinking along the lines of the repugnant conclusion. Lol if you think vegans are opposed to factory farming because they want there to be more chickens in the world as opposed to fewer chickens that suffer less.

92 Carolyn Tabarrok February 15, 2016 at 5:23 pm

As the blonde but non dippy mother of Alex I must say I agree with him on this, which is not always the case. I like to think of myself as ” green” but one can easily get caught up in knee jerk reactions. This I think is the case with these charming ill informed women. Honey is not produced by making bees work harder or chaining them to their desks, it is a natural product. Please think deeply.

93 BC February 15, 2016 at 8:36 pm

“Both humans and hawks eat chickens — but the more hawks, the fewer chickens; while the more humans, the more chickens.” Henry George.

This principle that human demand for harvestable resources — whether chickens, honey bees, or paper-producing trees — actually leads to a higher, rather than lower, population of those resources seems to be one of the least appreciated and cited economic principles.

On that topic, I have read in places that paper recycling actually results in fewer trees because most paper comes from trees planted specifically to produce paper. When demand for virgin paper falls, the tress are cut down and some of that land is repurposed for other use. Have people found this to be true empirically or is this just a reasonable null hypothesis?

94 prior_test February 16, 2016 at 12:04 am

‘When demand for virgin paper falls, the tress are cut down and some of that land is repurposed for other use. Have people found this to be true empirically or is this just a reasonable null hypothesis?’

This is untrue in Germany. Possibly because after having essentially deforested the country, there are both traditions and laws ensuring the continuation of forests.

For example, after an extremely destructive 1999 winter hurricane (Lothar – ‘Besides buildings and infrastructure, forests, such as the Black Forest in Germany, suffered major damage resulting in substantial economic loss.’ – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyclone_Lothar_and_Martin ), essentially all of the forested areas which were wiped out were replanted.

Economics is not the only measure of why people do and value things – not that this web site encourages such perspectives.

95 Nathan W February 17, 2016 at 9:35 pm

Maybe it’s because I’m Canadian, but the idea that any forestry lands can be easily repurposed seems surprising to me. Forestry lands are usually too far away from anything else to be used for anything other than hunting, fishing, etc.

96 Shmebulock, Crusher of Pussy February 15, 2016 at 10:56 pm

wut up

97 Nathan W February 17, 2016 at 9:36 pm

Vegan honey? I didn’t know that honey bees suffered in the prodcution of honey. Why would anyone care? And that, from someone who thinks promotion of vegetarianism would be a good public policy.

Anyways … I’m amazed that so many people are interested in honey. Nearly 100 comments?

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