My Day of Cruelty

This summer the Minnesota state legislature considered a bill that would ban video and audio recordings of animal facilities without express permission. This is the result of undercover recordings of organizations alleging mistreatment of animals. You can read more about the specifics of the bill on here.

The two sides of this argument are seemingly simple. The side that opposes the ban feels that a ban would end whistle blowers who wish to bring to light issues of animal cruelty. The side that is proposing the ban, primarily industry leaders, say that these undercover videos are not being truthful.

My feelings when listening to the discussion of this bill were initially against the ban. I thought to myself that if everyone were following best practices, they shouldn’t have anything to hide. Everyone should understand that there are some unsavory parts to farming, and that it’s nothing to hide. I am sure industry leaders in factory farms are uncomfortable with their practices being shown for less than noble reasons, so surely this must be a push that benefits soulless agribusiness. Glad I could see to the heart of that issue. Next issue, please.

I thought all of this until my apprentice beekeeper mentioned she wanted to bring someone who might take video this weekend when we were prepping the yard for the honey harvest. When she mentioned it, I was instantly filled with anxiety over it. It took some thinking about it, as to why I was so apprehensive about it. I knew some of my hives were too weak to make it through the winter. I was going to have at least two dead outs this fall, meaning I was going to kill two hives. And the idea people would see that filled me with dread.

I am not cruel to my bees. I treat them with respect. I do not treat them chemicals because I believe firmly in rebuilding strong genetics into the bee populations. I do research about disease and preventative measures, talk to other beekeepers about their bees. I know each of my hives well. I know their coloring, their temperament, what pollen they’re collecting. I care about my hives from the time I hive them in the spring to the honey harvest in the fall, and feeding them over the winter.

But like in all areas of life, tough choices need to be made. I can dead out my hives now, in a day, or I can let mites or disease or starvation kill them over the course of months. I don’t know if a colony of bees feels pain in the way that I understand it, or how much I am simply anthropomorphizing an animal whose biology is so drastically different from mine. But I do know that as much as having a dead out hurts, the idea of a colony starving in the dead of winter, as the population dwindles, until finally the last bee, who can’t live on her own, dies alone just breaks my heart. So we make the tough choice, and kill the hive.

If someone were to see me in the bee yard on just that day, the day I had to make the tough call about the survival of my hives, I would appear very cruel indeed. In fact, I’m sure if I saw myself on that day, I would feel cruel.

And I think it’s that feeling of having to make those hard choices, that makes me feel like I am cruel is what really motivates wanting to ban unauthorized recordings. And it’s not because I am worried that a recording wouldn’t be truthful, or people wouldn’t understand. Other people might not understand what I am doing because they don’t know my bees as well as I do. I have undertaken this enterprise with the intention to do what is best for these animals, and that is what I do. But the simple fact is, if someone doesn’t understand, I don’t want to explain it to them. It is not a fun day, it’s not a day of celebrating. It’s a day of doing what you have to do and moving on. I don’t want to have rehash again and again what was already a hard thing to do. I don’t want it immortalized on film. I just want to do what needs to be done, and that is what’s best for my bees.

As more and more “lay” people become interested in farming practices, and even as I start to learn more about them, everyone needs to understand that this is not always romantic or idyllic as the folks on the organic side would have you belive, and respect that it is not always a spectator sport.

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