First of all, if it were true that buying locally from captive hives helps out local bee populations, it would be perfectly possible to keep a hive without ever stealing their honey. The idea that stealing the honey from a hive (and killing many, many bees in the process) is somehow helping bees is quite frankly laughable. The honey industry does not care about bee casualties, or bee populations that aren’t making them money; these claims are nothing more than marketing. The reason so many are taken in by it is because it is based on a nugget of truth: bees are good for the environment. The honey industry would convince us that these bees should be captive bees, when in fact, wild bees are better pollinators, are better for the environment are actually being put at risk because of pesticides and captive bees.
Here in the UK, for example, many diseases that have only ever existed in domestic bees are spreading to wild bee populations and placing them in very real danger. Besides disease, captive bees provide competition for natural bees as they compete for the same food source, causing wild bees to decline compared to their (often foreign to the eco-system they are introduced to) captive bee counterparts. Studies have been conducted by researchers such as Rachael Winfree, professor of ecology, evolution and natural resources in Rutgers’ School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, suggesting that domestic bees are not as good at pollinating as every assumes they are: “There’s a widespread assumption that domestic honeybees are doing the job. This work shows that’s not true.” So the choice is between wild bees who the evidence suggests do a much better job of pollinating and are better for the environment or domestic bees who we can make money from… No prizes for guessing which one the honey industry is working hard to convince us all to support.
Technically beekeeping does support bee populations, but only the captive bee population that they own and the evidence suggests that this is at the expense of wild populations. Even for their domestic bees though, these bees are being exploited, killed and having their life’s work stolen. I would hardly call that supportive. This rhetoric about “help bees, eat honey” is blatantly anthropocentrism based on supporting the bees that are useful to us, rather than those who actually help the environment. Honey producers tell us, rather conveniently, that if we buy honey from them we will save the bees. The truth may be just the opposite.