So… there’s been recent news that bees are now considered fish in California.
Despite how that sounds, you aren’t actually going to be eating bees and chips in California. (At least, I think you don’t. I’m just someone watching the states doing things.) Bees are only legally considered fish, and are this way so they can be protected as endangered and threatened species. You aren’t actually gonna be eating bees and chips in California.
The rest of the video is pretty much going to be a transcript from the following video beyond 30 seconds:
Mostly because I’m lazy to rewrite the script into a more readable format, and this is the second time I’m editing this cause of WordPress issues. UGH. But. Let’s just pretend you didn’t see me write that and if someone watched the above video and wanted the sources I used, they would find the following more helpful.
Table of Contents
Why bees are legally considered fish in the state of California
In 2018, a group of non-profit organisations petitioned for 4 species of bumble bees (Crotch bumblebee, Franklin’s bumblebee, Suckley cuckoo bumblebee and Western bumblebee) to be listed as endangered. The California Fish and & Game Commission, which is responsible for the list of endangered species in California decided that this petition made sense. And approved it in June 2019.
Except farming groups weren’t happy about this. They sued the commission later in September, pointing to the law and point out that insects are nowhere mentioned there.
I should point out that earlier in the code it clearly talks about fish, wildlife and plants being important for the preservation and it’s kind of obvious that laws are usually outdated and don’t update alongside conservation science progress so I don’t know why this is a point of contention, but…
Somehow they managed to convince a district court to agree that insects aren’t part of the endangered species law.
So the commission looked at Section 45, which defines a Fish, and says that the definition contains the word invertebrate. Bees are invertebrates… Therefore, bees are fish and should be protected.
Perhaps in an attempt to demonstrate the effectiveness of the American legal system, it took another year and a half to decide that bees are indeed fish, and should be protected by the statute.
And by the way, this interpretation that bees are indeed fish, according to three distinguished professors of law, is perfectly normal for a California court of appeals.
And “typical when statutes are drafted in haste.”
That’s really the reason why I decided not to include the exact sentences and arguments that the lawyers argued in this case: it’s not meant to be precise and it really doesn’t benefit anyone to understand how lawyers played around with semantics.
But don’t let this ridiculous story and the ridiculous names of the bumblebees like crotch bumblebee and suckley cuckoo bumblebee distract you from the bigger question here:
Who would even block something like this? What do they even stand to gain?
According to court documents, the Plaintiffs are a Almond Alliance of California et al, which includes the following organisations: Almond Alliance of California, California Association of Pest Control Advisers, California Citrus Mutual, California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association, California Farm Bureau Federation, Western Agricultural Processors Association, Western Growers Association, and The Wonderful Company LLC.
So, basically a group of nuts… citrus, cotton growers and other agricultural groups.
It might seem pretty unintuitive that farmers don’t want to protect the bumblebees.
Random additional sources:
Not all bees are honeybees
Bees have a symbiotic relationship with flowers – which much of our food supply has. They rely on the flowers of our crops for pollen and nectar, and in turn pollinate blossoms along the way.
But here’s the thing – the food industry primarily relies on HONEYbees — not native bumblebees — as commercially-managed pollinators.
The honey industry most likely has you believe that most bees are the yellow-striped kind that lives in big colonies of hives (show European Honey Bee), but actually, more than 90% of the 20,000 species of bees are solitary, and about 70% of them are ground-nesting. Hell, most of them don’t even make honey.
Relying only on the 7 to 12 species of European honey bee is obviously risky since any changes to honey bee health will directly affect our food supply. Apparently, it is also highly inefficient, since wild pollinators enhance crops much more effectively than honey bees.
For instance, only a few hundred females of the mason bee Osmia Cornuta are needed to pollinate a hectare of apple or almond trees, but tens of thousands of honeybee workers would be required.
Yet, heavy reliance on the honey bees meant that native bumblebees have declined over the decades because of land use changes, herbicide and pesticide overuse and competition with commercial honey bees. Honey bees have not only displaced native bees from flowers, changed the suite of flowers they visit, reduced their reproductive success, honey bees also tended to spread diseases and pathogens to native bees.
But this at least means that honey bees are thriving, right? Right guys?
Random additional sources:
Bees and Almonds
Almonds, which is a seed and not a nut, take about 68% percent and some sources say 90% of ALL the commercial bees in the United States to pollinate.
And I do mean that honeybees literally have to be loaded on trucks and shipped across the country, fed substitute food to repopulate their hives two months earlier than natural, and then pollinate the almonds when they bloom.
Right here some of us might be inclined to believe that what happens in ol’ Murica isn’t your problem — wrong! California produces 100% of the United State’s almonds and 80% of the world’s almonds. As long as you eat imported almonds or buy something with almonds, it’s something that you affect as well.
Arguably, you can say that honeybees are thriving because of growing population numbers, but that argument is about as good as saying that the red junglefowl is thriving because their descendants end up on my plate as a chicken kebab.
Remember, natural honeybees don’t usually only feed on almond pollen and nectar – but the almond industry forces them into a monoculture.
Honeybees undergoing the stress of transport were not only recorded to have their ability to nurse the next generation of workers affected, but they were also recorded to have a significant decrease in lifespan, higher oxidative stress levels, and hives experience considerable temperature stress which is an important component of annual colony losses.
By annual colony losses, I mean that over the 2018-2019 winter, roughly 50 billion honeybees have died. Or as one farmer in this Guardian article disclosed, he’s losing 30% or more of his bees a year, compared to the 5% per year due to disease or weather before.
That 30% is a pretty standard number nowadays. You have honeybees dying from varroa mite, new and emerging diseases like the Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus, pesticides, stress, poor nutrition, and sometimes you even have workers bees just literally disappearing and leaving the queen alone, causing entire hives to collapse.
As for why beekeepers continue to do this, green – not this green — is as good a reason as any. For beekeepers, selling honey isn’t even as profitable as renting out their bees as pollinators. Doing so actually only provides half of the beekeeping revenue.
This is made possible only because tree nuts demand all over the world is growing, which means almond growers can afford to pay big bucks to the beekeepers.
It’s to the point where almonds have the top California crop acreage, is the 2nd highest valued commodity behind dairy, and is the top US specialty crop by export value.
The problem here is sustainability. Everybody – including the agricultural groups – know that the system isn’t remotely sustainable. So why exactly do agricultural groups oppose saving the bumblebees?
Agricultural group’s arguments against bees
Well they argue that putting bees on the list will affect agriculture. Because the bee’s home range is basically the entire state, farmers and growers everywhere would be greatly affected. And because insects aren’t as easily trackable as something like a wolf, it’s difficult to comply with in the fields.
Instead, they posit that the best way to address conservation is to work out voluntary solutions like planting bee habitats on farms.
There is also the economic value that almonds bring, tens of thousands of jobs, yada yada yada.
Now, on the surface, this story sounds just like the same old story of big corporations prioritising profits over sustainability. And as usual, we’ve reached a point too far to go back. But I didn’t want to simplify the issue and paint big agriculture as the bad guys without reading further. So, I read further to try to understand why. (There are a lot of sources I didn’t even put here.)
But uhh. I can’t of didn’t find a good answer for the big farms?
For instance, if you check for agriculture statistics, you might see sentences like California is the top producing State and or that the Central Valley produces ¼ of the Nation’s food.
The problem is that these statements are by cash receipts, rather than by some measure of nutrition value. Much of those cash receipts are things like almonds, other nuts and wine. Which are not staple food like rice or potatoes. If anything, they’re luxury food.
You might also see misleading statistics like how more than 90% of almond farms are family-owned, and that nearly 70% of almond farms are 100 acres or less, giving you an impression that you’re supporting small local businesses by buying California almonds.
Which are statistics that mislead you from knowing that 50.6% of California cropland is owned by 5% of the owners, with the gini coefficient showing that landownership is very unequal. Or that there are investment funds that own a lot of Californian lands. Or that lots of farmworkers are hired and earn about 30k a year, but typically much less due to the seasonality of the job. A lot of them are also undocumented immigrants. Or that despite producing so much of the country’s produce, California is the state that has the greatest number of households with food insecurity.
In another instance, there are more misleading statistics in an article by a farmland investment manager targeted at people with a net worth of more than 1 million. Titled “Dispelling Common Misconception about almond’s water use”. Let’s take misconception 2: “Almonds use more water than any other agricultural product.” They argue that in terms of gallons per kilocalorie, almonds outperform sheep & goat meat and are roughly consistent with poultry products, while also significantly outperforming beef.
Which I guess they’re saying isn’t that bad? But also, kind of ignoring the fact that animal agriculture itself isn’t exactly sustainable? If we click on the link they gave, the sentences given in the article were technically true. When compared to meat products, nuts take about an equivalent or better amount of water to produce. But it also ignores the fact that vegetables, starchy roots, fruits, and cereals are still way better in terms of water sustainability.
The real lesson here in terms of water sustainability is that we should eat less meat and nuts.
I could go on arguing about misleading facts, but my point is that although reports from agricultural groups imply that California agriculture is doing well and earning sweet, sweet cash, they conceal its sustainability through deceptive statistics and that profits tend to go to the larger landowners.
Sure, Big Ag isn’t doing nothing.
For instance, almonds farmers in California managed to save a third of water savings per acre over the last 20 years using measures such as micro-drip irrigation technology.
And remember Osmia Cornuta? The Wonderful Company, the largest almond grower in the world and also one of the companies opposing the bumblebee listing, is researching Osmia Lignaria as a commercially viable alternative to honeybees for almonds.
It’s just that, as it comes to large corporations and voluntary solutions, their track record hasn’t exactly been stellar.
Billionaires Resnicks and The Wonderful Company
Take the billionaires Steward and Lynda Resnick, who owns the Wonderful Company. They were infamous for aggressively consuming water and expanding their business in California even as residents faced water shortages with irreversible damages to the water ecosystem.
One of their companies Fiji Water, even takes water from the Fiji Islands and sells them to other wealthy people like Hollywood actors even when most Fijians don’t have access to clean drinking water. Even today, one in ten Fijians lack access to basic water supply and sanitation.
So it might be hilarious to know that in 2006 Fiji ran an ad saying “The Label says Fiji cause it’s not bottled in Cleveland.” To which the city took offense and ran tests in Fiji branded water and found that it contained 6.31 micrograms of arsenic per litre, while Cleveland water had none.
The Resnicks also happened to somehow purchase the Kern Water Bank, a critical water resource in California. Which uh… doesn’t sound right? Why would a billionaire be able to buy a public resource? This article written more than 10 years ago, explains that for reasons that still seem murky, the state gave the bank up to Kern county water authorities, who then ceded it to a consortium of public and private entities, the largest of which was owned by the Resnicks.
Then one of the executives at the companies said, “the water bank enabled us to plant permanent crops”, because they knew it could water its trees even in droughts. So the article alleges that owning the water bank encouraged business decisions that wouldn’t otherwise be smart for a semiarid region.
Well 10 years later, California is still complaining about the same thing amid a drought. You now have almond farmers ripping out trees because water is scarce. Not just the small farms, but large ones as well.
It may or may not have been due to a history of shitty practices like this, but I would like to mention that there are now water restrictions for the residents of California.
And according to this article in 2018, this team of journalists followed workers from the Wonderful Company back to Lost Hills, which is a very small company town of only less than 3 000 people, mostly working in agriculture.
Now at first, you think this doesn’t sound too bad. They have new health centres, new pre-K facilities, new housing projects, and new gardens. And to quote an article written by a friend of the Resnicks, an emphasis on better health and less diabetes. A non-moralistic way to change behaviour. One of the workers gets up at 2:45 am, hits the gym by 4 am and be at work by 6, and is now taking business and law courses online.
And wow, they have cheap, healthy meals for $3, made from fresh farm produce. Like pizza made from cauliflower, or wild salmon with creamed leeks and raw asparagus salad.
…until you realise that here the water comes out of the tap yellow and foul-smelling, so a lot of residents have to buy bottled water and stack them up.
And as it turns out, someone from cleanwateraction went to Lost Hills and also asked residents if they were happy there. As anybody with common sense can probably guess, one resident replied that only someone who sits in the office all day might want to go to the gym at 4 am. Most people already get enough exercise in the fields doing work.
Instead, the concern they have is whether the air they are breathing in is making them sick. Whether they have clean water.
Water trouble in Tulare County, California
Separate from the Resnick story, in the Tulare country where there is a population of 460 thousand people, the town had a water problem for the last FORTY YEARS. They’re receiving a buffet of leftovers from the grapes, almonds, apricots, and blueberries from large-scale farming. And by leftovers, I mean toxic nitrates, arsenic, 123TCP, and chromium.
And just 10 days before this sentence was written, the county literally ran out of water.
So in case you’re concerned about the Fijians, don’t worry. Californians have their water problems too. You know, just not for the upper echelon who are playing real-life like some kind of farming tycoon simulator.
Now, to be fair to the Resnicks
These towns wouldn’t exist without them. Some of them had gangs and murders before they were developed by the Resnicks. They’ve also spent 80 million on a charter school complex in Delano, and donated 750 million dollars to Caltech for environmental research, among other philanthropic acts. For comparison, assuming Forbes’ estimations are correct, would be about 10% of their 8 billion wealth.
And according to the Caltech donation article, the water that they used for the Kern Water Bank is rainwater put into the ground, which would otherwise go out to sea and get no value.
But thus far, we can see that California’s agriculture industry has a lot of problems stemming from the lack of governance and long-term planning. Wealthy people exploiting the system is simply a symptom of the problem.
So, what can we do about it? Obviously, there isn’t a silver bullet solution.
Say no to almond milk?
What about almond growers? What do?
But from the perspective of the almond growers, they tend to value their own on-farm observations rather than rely on things like scientific studies. Another study surveyed almond growers in California to understand their incentives for adopting bee-friendly practices, and one thing that was notable is that growers depend on managed honey bees, so they may have been less concerned about native bee populations as a result. There is also an interesting dynamic between beekeepers and almond growers that growers are less likely to adopt bee-friendly practices if they thought bee colonies were already strong, which actually penalises beekeepers who bring strong colonies since the bees wouldn’t have access to diverse forage during crop bloom.
Obviously, there are more findings in the study, including their main argument that almond growers from different regions require a different set of approaches, due to reasons like different rainfall patterns, temperatures, water districts and rights, and social communities.
But the rest is really not for a YouTuber, who is not a scientist, nor a farm owner, nor a billionaire, but who is just a fat boi to figure out.
Because the story of farmers versus conservationism has already happened before. Not for bees, but for a fish no longer than 3 inches called the Delta Smelt.
History Rhymes — the Delta Smelt
In this older case, there were scientists (Peter Moyle is one of the more well-known ones) who warned about the species dying off as a 30-year career, and also a sociologist who wrote a 147-page dissertation for his PhD that (I’m oversimplifying here) essentially complaining about the problem causing the environmental decline in California.
In typical American fashion: the cause is politics.
A version of the story can also be watched in a 45 minutes documentary presented by Sarcasmitron. But here’s the shorter version:
By the late 1980s, scientists had already begun noticing Delta Smelt numbers lowering. Subsequently being listed under the Endangered Species Act aka the ESA in 1993, the fish is also called an indicator species that can somewhat represent the health of the Delta ecosystem.
This would become a nearly half-a-century battle between environmentalists and farmers, which basically mirrors what happened with the bees above. Environmentalists want to save the delta smelt, which would require some measures that reduce and regulate water usage. Farmers want to use the water to farm.
As of 2022, the Delta Smelt, which is endemic to California, is already functionally extinct and most of them can only be found in hatcheries.
You see, the thing is the ESA isn’t actually very effective at preventing extinction. The ESA has an “emergency room” approach to biodiversity conservation, only protecting species when they are nearing extinction. Which, by the time they are listed, may already be too far gone to save.
And while the law is focused on specific species, conservation doesn’t really work like that but requires that the whole ecosystem be taken into consideration. Both are major problems when you consider that under the system of conservation in California, science is in subordination to the law. So much so that a geologist and prominent water policy professional referred to the United States District court mercurial judge as the Chief Scientist for the Delta.
The result is that scientists were often forced to narrow their concerns to fit the framework of the ESA, which doesn’t really solve any problems at all. Resources and time were funnelled into what he called “combat” science”, which is funded research which primarily supports pre-existing legal and political positions. This would be effective for the legal needs in court but doesn’t do anything for conservation in the long run.
See, pumping restrictions was only one of many things required to save the ecosystem. But the ESA had narrowly changed that to only pumping restrictions… and only for the delta smelt.
It’s kinda like if the house is burning down, but instead of putting out the fire and rescuing the residents you just kept splashing water only on one of them.
Outside of California, the delta smelt has also become a political weapon for figures like Donald Trump to attack the other party. The author of that 147-page PhD dissertation ran an analysis of publications regarding the delta smelt and found that publications within California tended to be pretty balanced, with a slight skew towards pro-conservation. But outside of California, 77% of the publications show a negative view of environmental protections.
Much of those negative views would include a fish vs man narrative, accusing environmentalists of pumping water and taking away jobs and GDP to save a stupid little fish. Which, isn’t even a thing. According to a study in 2019, they actually found that a higher proportion of water was used for productive uses, meaning a lower proportion was left for the fish.
And we’ve already seen the ending, along with 11 other indigenous Delta fish species. Gone forever.
It’s a bit of a shit show, and it’s going to get worse.
I still haven’t mentioned anything about California water rights and how complicated it is. But I don’t really want to read or talk about it.
There’s really no conclusion to any of this.
Worst case scenario, we’re watching the rapid decline of the States of America. Best case scenario, my almonds are getting more expensive.
Wew, that was a pretty long research topic. If you enjoyed that, perhaps consider donating a cup of coffee. Which I really need after the weeks spent reading everything (there are more sources not listed here as well, such as documentaries on water that ended up not affecting my opinion on anything).