Israeli Law to Help Honey Industry Liable to Harm Wild Bees

The law would pit honey bees against wild bees

Honey bees in Alon Hagalil in northern Israel.
Rami Shllush

Environmental activists are warning that a new law designed to help the beehive industry will harm Israel’s wild bees. Environmental experts, as well as employees of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, are calling on MKs to introduce changes in the law to protect the wild bees from competition with honeybees, by separating the areas of beehives from nature reserves.

The new law is awaiting a second and third reading in the Knesset Economics Committee, and gives a committee appointed by the minister of agriculture and rural development responsibility for beehive placement, instead of the Honey Production and Marketing board, which until now was in charge of apportioning quotas of territories for beehives. The ministry says that there is a need for new areas for beehive placement because of the important role of bees in pollinating agricultural crops.

But experts are afraid that the new rules will lead to extensive use of honeybees and will adversely affect the wild bee population. According to research in Israel and abroad, wild bees compete for food sources with honeybees, which sideline the species of wild bees due to their large number.

In Israel there are 1,100 species of wild bees that pollinate mainly wild plants — a very high concentration of species relative to the area of the country. Therefore wild bees are important to Israel’s entire ecological system.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel asked the chairman of the Economics Committee, MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union), to introduce changes in the law to protect wild bees, by forbidding the placement of hives for honeybees in nature reserves and national parks without the agreement of the SPNI. Its main proposal includes forming a buffer zone in a radius of two kilometers around nature reserves. The density of beehives in the zone will be decided by the director of the Nature and Parks Authority, depending on the blossoming seasons and the size of the reserve. The SPNI wants to prevent honeybees from flooding the nature reserves and competing with the wild bees.

The Agriculture Ministry responded: “The ministry considers nature a partner of agriculture, and therefore the objectives of the law, as approved in the Economics committee — include guaranteeing sequential pollination for wild plants and protection of bees as a natural asset. Among the considerations for beehive placement will be their influence on biodiversity.”