There's a perception in the vegan/vegetarian community that beekeepers are perpetrators of animal abuse. They mishandle bees, stealing from them and working them into the ground by harvesting their hard-earned product. David Rukin, one of Florida's most prolific beekeepers, thinks otherwise. Rukin has been in the bzzzness since 1975, and he and his Gainesville company, BuzznBee Farm, Inc., have worked with supermarket giant Whole Foods for more than a decade.
"The reality is, everything in Mother Nature is an overproducer," he says. "An apple tree, for example, produces all those apples, but it doesn't eat apples. The apples are for other creatures to eat. Birds eat the apples, humans eat the apples, worms eat the apples. If nothing eats the apple, then it hits the ground and grows into another tree and the cycle starts over again. Humans lose sight of this because they're the only creatures that are not overproducers. Humans are takers."
Rukin contends that beekeepers work with bees' natural tendencies. "Bees are always looking for empty space to fill up with bee pollen and with honey," he says. "If beekeepers don't take the full boxes away fast enough, the bees become dissatisfied with us and they leave."
Rukin explains that in the insect world, a second is equivalent to one human hour. They need space. Now. "Beekeepers are a supplier of space. You can't make bees live in the box. They have to want to be there."
Rukin points out that 19th-century beekeeper L. L. Langstroth is credited with the discovery of "bee space," from which industrialized beekeeping was born.
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Organizations such as PETA find fault with beekeeping tactics like clipping queen bees' wings to keep them bound to colonies, or harvesting all the honey that bees need to survive the winter and substituting a less nutritious sugar solution.
"There are wings that do get clipped, but I've never met a real beekeeper that does that. Real beekeepers that feed the world don't do that," Rukin says. "We don't mutilate bees; we grow bees. That's something that's geared toward hobby beekeepers that have fear." The fear, for example, that they won't be able to turn over the boxes in time and that the bees will be motivated to leave, he says.
"Beekeepers love bees! We work our asses off to take care of these bees. If anything, a beekeeper would leave too much honey to sustain them."