Earlier this week Seattle Weekly's Dan Person took to The Daily Weekly to note a recent effort in the state Senate to help alleviate beekeepers' fear of getting sued - an effort that some say could end up hurting beekeepers more than it helps them. Specifically, Person wrote of Senate Bill 5696, which started off with good intentions, but took a turn for the worse thanks to an amendment from the aptly named Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside).
Earlier this year, a reader wrote The Ethicist at the New York Times Magazine with this conundrum: Her daughter raises bees. A family that moved next door has a daughter who's allergic to the stings. What's to be done?
The Ethicists' opinion was to scratch the honey making. The hobby might be sweetly rewarding, but not worth having a dead girl on the conscience.
Mark Emrich, president of the Washington State Beekeepers Association, thinks that's flawed logic.
"As far as actual documented honeybee bites, it's practically undocumented," Emrich said by phone on Tuesday. Honeybees die when they sting people, making them very reticent to do so.
"You have to either be attacking their hive or putting your hand directly on them," he said.
But an attempt by beekeepers to codify that statistical rarity and protect beekeepers from being sued by anyone nearby with a bite and welt is backfiring.
Senate Bill 5696 was written to shield apiarists -- as beekeepers are technically known --- from legal liability if someone on their block happens to get stung by one of the little suckers.
Emrich told lawmakers at hearing in February that the proposition was "a comfort bill for inner-city beekeepers."
The hobbyists fear that if, "God forbid, someone is bit by a yellow jacket or a hornet or a wasp within a mile, someone is going to serve them papers."
The bill arises out of a actual situation in which a beekeeper in Issaquah was so fearful he'd get sued that he had to give his bees away, Emrich said.
Too bad for the beekeepers, though, the aptly named Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, is allergic to bees and says he had a nasty encounter with honeybees in his apple grove.
Honeyford, who sits on the committee, amended the bill to allow anyone living within a quarter mile of a beekeeper to demand setbacks from their property.
Emrich says at this point, the bill would hurt beekeeping more than help it, as it will make a neighbor's right to force beekeepers to quit their hobby law.
To which commenter tbascom replies:
firstly, bees don't "bite," they sting. big difference.
secondly, if we humans don't work, and work hard, to propagate bees, they will cease to exist; there are almost no feral bee colonies left because of diseases and pests.
thirdly, it is correct that bees, especially those normally kept in the u.s., are not interested in stinging people - because it is a death sentence. that doesn't mean i have never been stung. i received well over 20 stings when i worked without a bee suit to set right a tipped over hive in the rain; and i have reached for a pile of dead weeds in my garden, only to be stung by a hidden bee that felt immediately threatened. on the other hand, i have often worked in my bee hives with no protection, and with no bad experiences.
fourthly, bees are essential pollinators. they make the difference between crop success and crop failure in many parts of the u.s. where agriculture is significant. they also make the difference between small successes in your kitchen garden (or your neighbor's) and bumper crops.