Many people think of honey as a benign product, peacefully collected by bee keepers. This (false) image, as well as the public concern over bee populations, has prompted even some vegans to consider buying honey.
This article explores the ethical concerns of honey production, and describes some of the practices involved in bee keeping. My other article “How to help the bees” looks into why honey is not the answer to concerns about bees and pollinators, and what we can do to really help bees.
Honey is an animal product
Fundamentally, honey is not vegan because it is an animal product. Honey is food made by bees for bees.
Commercial honey production is much like factory farming. Bees are not as “free” as one may think. Worker bees are loyal to their queen. The queens wings are torn off to prevent her from leaving.
To take the honey, hives are often smoked, which can kill bees, or can also cause them to gorge themselves on honey because they think their colony is being threatened.
Bees work very hard to create honey, flying hundreds of miles to produce honey as a winter food source. Each worker bee produces only about 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime.
Here are some of the practices involved in bee keeping:
- The queen bee is usually killed every year so that a new queen can be introduced to the colony.
- The wings of the queen bee are usually clipped to prevent her from flying.
- Queen bees are artificially inseminated, using drones, who are killed in the process.
- Bees are often killed or harmed while being handled.
- Farmed bees are kept in unnatural living conditions. they’re kept in boxes and moved from place to place on trucks, which is stressful for them.
- Pollen is bees’ primary source of nutrition in warm weather, but honey is their only food source in cold weather (and other times when pollen isn’t available). Most beekeepers remove all of the spring season honey. Commercial bee farms take all of the honey from the bees, not leaving them enough to get through the winter. If the bees are to be kept alive, artificial pollen or sugar water or syrup is given to them, which leaves bees weaker, susceptible to sickness, and more likely to be attacked by other insects.
- Some beekeepers burn the beehives, with the bees still inside, every year before the winter starts to reduce costs.
- Farmed bees contract diseases and viruses. BeeCulture magazine reports that beekeepers are notorious for contributing to the spread of disease: “Beekeepers move infected combs from diseased colonies to healthy colonies, fail to recognize or treat disease, purchase old infected equipment, keep colonies too close together, and leave dead colonies in apiaries.”…that’s one reason why their population has declined. when bees come down with disease, the beekeepers usually destroy the colony and burn the equipment…which means burning or gassing the bees to death in their hives.
A video showing commercial honey harvesting: https://www.facebook.com/SantuarioGaia/videos/1114931511890717/
BiteSize vegan on honey: http://bitesizevegan.com/ethics-and-morality/is-honey-vegan-healthy-humane/