Rotten: Lawyers, Guns & Honey

I’m invariably cautious – even cynical – about beekeeping movies. But I just saw one that breaks the mold and restores faith in the potential for delivering a great story about the honey industry without lies and exaggeration.  The one-hour documentary Lawyers, Guns & Honey delivers. It’s one of the very few bee films which you can watch, learn from, and enjoy without getting irritated that the producers hadn’t done their homework.

I need to thank a regular reader of this blog, Susan, for suggesting this film. It apparently came out on Netflix yesterday (January 5). She had a few comments which I’ll share. Here’s Susan:

“It seemed to get most of the facts straight as I know them—the trans-shipping from China with falsified papers through other ports, the adulteration and contaminants, the sheer demand that can’t possibly be met by real bees, etc. It only shows the industrial side of the honey biz, with a side on the migratory pollinator biz, so innocent citizens might believe there is no other kind of honey out there except mostly the “warehouse blended”variety—which gets quite a long look. And there are NO women beeks shown—only a couple women in secretarial roles.”

I felt the same way upon watching the documentary. (Although, I have to add that one of the women was a high-power international sales rep who ended up in prison and the other is president of a large bee farm.  Like Susan, though, I didn’t actually see any women in bee yards.) Susan’s summary also touches on the one weakness in the documentary – the focus is on commercially handled honey, though there is a piece on Clint Walker’s farm where the audience gets a glimpse of honey made and sold locally by a beekeeper. However, the goal of the production was to explore global, industrial-scale honey activity.

Netflix describes the film as a look at “the new global honey business and largest food fraud investigation and prosecution in history — a scam known as Honeygate.”  There is much more – including bee thefts in California and the almond pollination business.  A lot is squeezed into one hour and a few things are left out, but the omissions don’t lessen the impact of this documentary.

Lawyers, Guns & Honey is an absolutely great film.  It’s well-researched and well-photographed, resulting in a compelling story. Watch it. If you have Netflix, the film is the first release in the new series “Rotten.”  It is on in the USA and here in Canada – hopefully in other countries as well.  I don’t give away accolades very often. This documentary deserves everyone’s attention. Recommend it to your friends.

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
This entry was posted in Beekeeping, Commercial Beekeeping, Culture, or lack thereof, Movies, Pollination, Save the Bees and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to Rotten: Lawyers, Guns & Honey

  1. susan rudnicki says:

    Hey!! thanks for the kind words!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. susan rudnicki says:

    On a different topic, but one which I only recently became aware of—our state beekeeping federation, CSBA (CA State Beekeepers Assn) recently voted to avoid any further tightening of neonic usage in the state. They voted WITH Big Ag’s position that the chemicals are regulated enough. Some of my most valued contacts, especially Michele Colopy of the Pollinator Stewardship Council ( a lil bulldog of a org going to bat for beekeepers all the time) were stymied in their attempts to talk reason to the beek group. Multiple recent studies have confirmed nasty synergicity and persistence in the neonic group damaging bees and their colonies. I will copy you the letter I got back from the only person I know who belongs to CSBA and what I replied to him. It’s illuminating.


  3. Deb Corcoran says:

    I, too, watched this last night. The exposure of illegal imported honey was great. I wish it was front and center in the National news.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Erik says:

    We watched the show this morning, thanks for the suggestion! As you say, it was a good piece. I with they had talked about how to buy untainted honey. They never actually say this, and would have been a nice way to round out the story.

    Nice to see a company (Netflix) take on this type of reporting. Planning to watch the remaining episodes as well.


    Liked by 2 people

    • Deb Corcoran says:

      I think the label should state the Country of origen so beware of that. What I think is to buy local honey, best for everyone!


  5. greenoceangirl says:

    Thank you for the suggestion. One of our association members also recommended it, so I watched it this afternoon. It was a lot packed into the hour. As you said, it focused on its message, of criminal action within the honey business, but did little to show where and how to support honest honey producers. Makes me grateful to know what my girls are producing.

    Liked by 1 person

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  7. Susan says:

    Thank you for the recommendation of this documentary. I hadn’t heard of it before and thought that I seen all of the bee movies offered on Netflix.


  8. Sroyon says:

    Thank you for the recommendation, Ron! I watched it this week, and we are also planning to screen it for LSE Bees society members next month: a very different kind of offering from last year’s Black Mirror! I know at least one other person who watched the documentary after reading your blogpost. And the next episode, about food allergies, was also really good (I’m yet to watch the others).

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ron Miksha says:

      I’m so glad my post was useful! It’s easy to miss films (and news events) so I thought it might be helpful to mention it. (I would not have seen this film myself if not for one of my blog’s regular readers/commenters!) The documentary leaves a few important things out, but this is still one of the best I’ve seen on the beekeeping business.
      Meanwhile, I follow the LSE postings regularly and gain a lot from your group’s work!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Tom says:

    Forgive me if I’m being naive after watching this program. It seems to me that bees are being overworked for honey which is leading to decline. With that in mind, surely creating artificial honey is good for the bees. Yes, it is illegal and not as good for you etc, but if we want bees to thrive and do their own thing, surely artificial honey production is a good step forward as the demand for honey increases? What does everyone think?


    • Ron Miksha says:

      Hi Tom,
      Thanks for your comment. You have a really interesting perspective. It’s one which I’ve never heard before so I like that it challenges the way I usually think about things.
      However, there is an important error in the argument. If it were not for beekeepers, there would be far fewer honey bees in the world. Honey bees are not actually going extinct – there are now more honey bees than there have ever been in the entire natural history of the world (and that’s going back millions of years). The reason is that honey bees are livestock, cared for by beekeepers. Without beekeepers, varroa mites, climate change, industrial pollution, and pesticides would kill billions of honey bees. Other types of bees (bumble bees, for example) are not directly economically important and they are suffering.
      Here are a couple of charts showing how honey bees are thriving world wide:

      Hives in Canada

      Hives in World

      From this, you can see that artificial “honey” as human food to replace honey from honey bees would result in fewer beekeepers and fewer bees.
      – Ron


    • susan rudnicki says:

      Tom—then, the facts should be openly declared—and this is not happening. If you pay for gold jewelry, for example, and find it corroding on your finger later because some sheister has tried to sell you something that it is not, (so he could make more), this is criminal. Regardless of the overworking of the bees, which I do believe is happening, in addition to all the other insults described, some are trying to sell false goods, even dangerous goods, and we have a reason to expose that crime. My opinion is, no one wants to sell “artificial honey” As well, the main biz of most honey bee hives worldwide is as MIGRATORY pollination service. With the huge mono-crops and cheap food that are produced for the modern citizen, this model is not about to change any time soon.


  10. Deb Corcoran says:

    Agree with that Susan. We have recently found out that Purina is selling a new food for honey bees, sprayed with chicken blood. It seems the migratory beekeepers have more of an interest in this.


  11. Deb Corcoran says:

    Wow! I wonder why that would happen? I’m going to check that site out. I have heard the pro arguements but do not agree. Our bees can forage on what they want to, but as bee peers of the honey bees I will give them what they naturally eat. Honey bees are herbivores, not carnivorous.
    So sorry that happened to you.


    • susan rudnicki says:

      Well, if you do, you can substantiate her disinclination to believe the facts by sending her Randy Oliver’s answer today to my question about the “Hearty Bee” supplement. Don’t think she will argue with him—-
      randy oliver
      7:52 AM (9 hours ago)

      to me
      Yep, ingredients are yeast and dried chicken blood, with supplemental vitamins and minerals.

      We’ve also discussed over here, and I’m in complete agreement about the potential negative PR issue for honey.



      • Deb Corcoran says:

        There is an ingredient list that I copied. If they accept me onto that site I will post it.


      • susan rudnicki says:

        Well, if it is the same one from the NZ Beeks site, in other words, not directly from Purina—they will label it insufficiently verifiable. The image of “the label” already got posted and the moderator and others shot it down as not reliable information.


      • Deb Corcoran says:

        This is directly from the Purina bag itself. If you are on FB under your name I will pos5 it for you, we really shouldn’t communicate lik3 this on Ron Miksha site.


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  16. Adrian O'S says:

    Why do beekeepers bring their bees to pollinate almonds ? Because Americans always exploit things to the nth degree. If almond orchards were interplanted with natural forage, trees and plants bees could then remain local in almond growing areas and not travel in trucks halfway across a continent. Nowhere else in the world has this agricultural method (that I know of)


    • Ron Miksha says:

      Thanks for commenting. I see that you are in Ireland. I’m in Canada.

      You state that “Americans always exploit things to the nth degree… Nowhere else in the world has this agricultural method (that I know of)”. Actually, bees are migrated by the truckload into Israeli, Spanish and Australian almond groves (often from hundreds or thousands of kilometres away: See this about Australia, where thousands of colonies are migrated for almond pollination).

      Almonds need adequate cross-pollination. (Though 10% of California’s almonds have recently been engineered to be self-pollinating.) In early spring, natural pollinator populations are small and the weather is cool and wet. Pollinators for almonds (which bloom in February in California) are scarce. Beekeepers fill the shortage.

      In the 1920s, California had 20,000 acres of almonds – today there are over one million acres. There was no commercial almond pollination in the 1920s. Instead, growers relied on native bees and local beekeepers with a few close-by, non-migrated hives. With limited pollinator activity, crops were 400 pounds per acre. Now they are over 2,000 pounds/acre (as high as 2,600 lbs/acre in 2011). Some people argue that we should have stayed with the earlier system of smaller crops per acre and simply planted more acres. Environmentally, this would be a disaster – imagine five times as many acres of almond groves in California! That would choke out any remaining natural preserves and consume much of the state’s water. Migratory honey bees have increased per-acre production, keeping some land from becoming cultivated. Almond producers are able to produce more nuts per unit of land, feeding more of the world’s people relatively cheaply.

      Other people might say, “I don’t care about other people.” Ecologist Stewart Brand (editor of the Whole Earth Catalog) has referred to this as the “customary indifference to starvation” shown by some misguided environmentalists. Certainly, that’s one way to look at things. Those folks suggest that we go back to tiny farmsteads with a few dozen almond trees on each farm. Almonds should be scarce and expensive – harvested by hand for the privileged wealthy who can afford them. I’m not in favour of rich elitists getting the most nutritious foods while the poor do without. I doubt that you are, either.

      I’ve driven around Ireland. (I took the picture below near Galway. It’s from a parade of animals that stopped me for about half an hour.) Ireland is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. That hasn’t stopped changes in agriculture. Today, Ireland has 4 million sheep – 40% more than a hundred years ago, a time-period in which Irish farms became five times larger. Sheep are better-fed and they weigh more. Much of the production is exported. (45% of Ireland’s exported lamb and mutton go to France.) Compared to bucolic pastures of three sheep, are the Irish “always exploiting things to the nth degree” or are they trying to make a living by providing food which everyone can afford? I think it’s the latter.

      A parade of animals in Ireland


  17. Ron Miksha says:

    Thanks, Susan. As always, you offer some thought-provoking ideas. There’s a lot to unpack in your comments.

    You write that “maximized production almost always fails to account for externalized costs.” As a beekeeper, it’s much better to allow the bees to fill five boxes instead of filling two, getting crowded, and swarming. The incremental cost of supers and a little extra time spent extracting “maximizes production” without the environmental impact of an extra hive of bees. Almond growers who maximize yield by hiring pollinating insects are being more environmentally responsible than those who grow four hundred pounds per acre without pollination and then feed and water five times the number of trees. In this case, the externalized (environmental) costs are much lower by bringing in bees to pollinate the almonds.

    You mention human population increase. It is rising most rapidly in developing countries. But in Europe and wealthy parts of Asia, population is declining. It will eventually fall in developing nations, too, when prosperity arrives. Meanwhile, the lives of those people matter. You point out that they will eat more meat. Maybe more honey and almonds, too. But can we sit here in our positions of privilege in wealthy countries and despair that poor people elsewhere will be a problem because they will eat meat and will strive to enjoy less arduous lives? Maximizing production has fed the world – people are no longer starving, except in warfare as a tactic imposed by people with power. (Or perhaps because of some ‘environmentalists’, according to environmentalist Stewart Brand.) Back in 1840, when (you point out) the world’s population reached a billion, starvation was rampant – even in Europe. Maximizing production feeds people. The poor starved when food production wasn’t maximized.

    I agree with you that we can be healthier by eating less meat. The animals would certainly be healthier. But that’s not what this blog post was about. It is strange that that’s where your comments have taken you. However, as people become wealthier, they probably will eat more meat until they realize that beans and tofu are better for them and the environment. Wealthier, well-fed people have the luxury of thinking about the planet and changing their diets.

    We are privileged. It’s presumptuous to think that people in developing countries (you call them formerly “skinny/poor” nations) should remain malnourished/poverty-stricken. “Skinny and poor” might sound better, but the reality is blindness for malnourished children, deathbeds for new mothers, the agony of starvation for millions. Even with cardiovascular disease and diabetes, people who are overfed live much, much longer lives than people who are starving.

    Our system is not perfect, but the production of inexpensive food for billions (resulting in the near elimination of starvation) is nothing less than an amazing and it is a welcome result of agriculture around the world working to ‘maximize production’.


  18. susan rudnicki says:

    Yes, I wandered a bit in my remarks, but all is embedded in a world of interconnected feedback loops. Having studied the human population issue and the impact it is having on our finite world, this part …”human population increase. It is rising most rapidly in developing countries. But in Europe and wealthy parts of Asia, population is declining” Women’s status and education is fundamentally responsible for this. The population rise in areas where girl children are devalued, where women’s status is poor, and where females are not educated and have no reproductive health care have the worst of the intersection of unplanned and undesired births by tender aged girls. The outcome of “malnourished children, deathbeds for new mothers, the agony of starvation for millions” is not the cause, but the result of the poor status of women. Modern agriculture does not change the social issues for the better. In every case I have read about, countries establishing education, parity for women and girls, and providing reproductive health care results in fewer, healthier, and more well spaced births, and better nutrition for all concerned. As to the consumptive patterns of the wealthy, Paul Ehrlich, professor of population studies at Stanford, makes the point that the factor of consumption is two thirds of the I-pat formula. Where I= p X a X t —or Impact=Population times Affluence times Technology. Each citizen of the “developed” world has a much larger impact overall. That’s where those externalized costs to the biosphere are buried and which no one really wants to pay honestly. We ARE paying, we just don’t see the effects clearly yet. Sadly, the people who are suffering the earliest and will experience the greatest harms of our unsustainable planetary burden, are the poorest.


    • Terry Svens says:

      Why Paul Ehrlich? He wrote Population Bomb. 50 years ago. He was wrong about everything he said. Instead of world starvation, we had green revolutions. He said India wouldnever feed 400 million. There’d be mass starvation, he said. now theres a billion there, They eat better than ever. Ehrlich was a joke.


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