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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Will Fake Honey Save the Bees?

A mad scheme for bee-pocalypse

On Friday, Shark Tank, the investment television show, featured two nice ladies from Minnesota and their product “Bee Free Honee,” honee made from apples.

Is cheap, vegan honee a good idea? Perhaps but I was less than convinced by one of the arguments the ladies made for their honee — it will save bees! The ladies argued that reducing the demand for honey will encourage bee farmers to not work the bees so hard thus increasing their numbers.

I was expecting the acerbic Kevin O’Leary to have a field day with this economic fallacy. Or maybe, I thought, Mark Cuban will throw a dash of common sense into the tank. But no, all the Sharks cooed about this mad scheme. So it is up to me.

Reducing the demand for honey reduces the demand for honey bees. A cheap, high-quality substitute for honey doesn’t mean a world of bees gently pollinating flowers in an idyllic landscape — it means a beepocolypse. Bee free honee will save bees the same way the internal combustion engine saved horses.

You may be concerned about colony collapse disorder. Well, the commercial beekeepers are even more concerned, and they have been adapting to CCD and maintaining honey production and pollination services.

In fact, there are more bee colonies in the United States today (latest data) than there have been anytime in the last 20 years. CCD is still a problem, but it’s the demand for honey and pollination services that incentivizes solutions to the problem. Remember, without honey, it’s only a hobby.

(Perhaps the ladies have a sophisticated position on the Repugnant Conclusion, but I doubt it.)

A version of this post first appeared at Marginal Revolution.

  • Alex Tabarrok is a professor of economics at George Mason University. He blogs at Marginal Revolution with Tyler Cowen.