At first, as a vegan, I didn’t think much about honey. Is honey vegan? Well I knew it wasn’t, and I stayed away from it because honey comes from the bees. I felt somewhat wrong about taking it from them, but I didn’t really know why.
I wasn’t sure if it was actually a bad thing, or if hippie dippie vegans were just saying that in the name of “peace, love, and don’t interfere with animals”.
So, when my vegan friend came to me and asked me why honey isn’t vegan I didn’t have a great answer. I don’t know, maybe it’s bad for the bees in some way?
Thus, his question sparked my curiosity and I spent the past week looking into it for him (and me). I actually found it’s way worse than I ever thought, and of course it is. After all, isn’t that the case with most animals that humans interfere with? Even our pets?
1. Taking from bees to fill up Pooh’s honeypots
Okay, so the average bee makes about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in its entire lifetime. Say whaaat? I was SHOCKED when I found this out, because 1/12 of a teaspoon seems like nothing!
Not only that, but a beehive has to visit 2 million flowers and fly about 55,000 miles to make 1 pound of honey. That’s kind of crazy. Imagine how many bees worked to fill up Pooh’s honeypots!
The little bumblers store their honey for winter months when there aren’t plants to pollinate-it’s their food.
But, we take it from them. This is the most obvious reason that honey isn’t vegan, since vegans don’t consume any animal products. However, this is the easy one. The difficult ones are below.
2. Hives pumped with smoke
To actually harvest the honey, keepers first fill the hives with smoke.
The gas makes the bees sleepy and submissive, so they don’t sting the beekeeper. It also masks the scent of alarm pheromones to stop the bees from keeping their honey stores safe. The bees ain’t stopping these burglars.
3. Crushing bees
Even with the nicest backyard beekeepers, bees are crushed, injured, or suffocated when the keeper removes the honeycomb frames, or inspects the honeycomb.
Seriously, even the ones who try to be extremely careful and not crush the bees still crush the bees. Not as many as the ones who are careless, but it still happens on every inspection.
And of course, commercial beekeepers kill even more bees since it’s hard to be as careful with thousands of bees.
4. Replacing stolen honey with sugar substitutes
When typical beekeepers remove honey from the combs they replace it with a substitute like corn syrup or sugar water. The sugar substitute doesn’t have all of the nutrients that bees get from honey, which is detrimental to their health.
Without those key nutrients the colonies are even more susceptible to disease outbreaks, which also might contribute to the fall in bee population.
5. Kill queen bees
The queen bees are killed and replaced with a new one every 1 or 2 years apparently because old, sick, and infertile queens must be replaced for the colony to thrive. Apparently.
6. Artificially inseminate queens
Bee breeding beekeepers artificially inseminate queens to control genetics, which might also contribute to declining bee populations; it narrows the population gene pool and increases chance of large-scale die offs, or susceptibility to disease.
7. Wing clipping
Queen bees have her wings clipped to stop her from leaving her current colony and starting a new one. This is the way to control bee populations so there is maximum bee productivity, and maximum profit.
8. Pesticides and antibiotics
Mites and fungi harm the bees, so beekeepers often use neonicotinoid, a widely used insecticide. Some research says that it contributes to colony collapse, but it’s still being looked into.
They are also given antibiotics to protect them from diseases.
9. Weakened under stress of transportation, diseases spread to thousands of colonies
Many beekeepers seal thousands of colonies containing “rental bees” in the back of an 18-wheeler, taking them back and forth across the country to large-scale farms for pollination services.
Confining the bees puts them under a lot of stress. The stress weakens the bees, making diseases spread rampantly through the thousands of closely packed colonies in the truck.
10. Moving all over the country means parasites spread
And, because bee hives are moved all over the country, varroa mites are spreading like crazy. These mites are a type of parasite that feed on bees and spread viruses.
But here’s the kicker: even if the little bumbler doesn’t get sick, the mites can cause the wings to develop malformed.
11. Hive burning
One method of controlling the outbreak of American Foul Brood, a disease that kills off bees, is to burn the hive along with the sickened bees.
To me, it feels irresponsible to ever let it come to this because the disease can be prevented with careful monitoring (the monitoring that also crushes bees).
12. Taking honey, pollen, beeswax, propolis
Pollen is another source of food for bees, and they also work really hard to collect, and make beeswax and propolis.
13. Queen babies killed for royal jelly
Royal jelly comes from bee excretion, but in order to harvest it, keepers take the queen bee away from a group of young bees. The keepers then stimulate the young bees to make new queens. Every queen larvae is fed royal jelly, is killed, and the jelly is taken from them.
14. Commercial bee competition cause wild bees to die off
Wild bees have been buzzing around and pollinating for centuries, but since commercial bees pollinate farms of mono-cultured veggies, fruits, and nuts, the wild bees have less to eat.
This reduces the wild bee population.
15. Cold area keepers kill hives in winter
There are some colder areas where it’s expensive to keep bees alive during the winter. In those places, beekeepers might will kill off the hives with cyanide gas during the winter.
Vegan Alternatives To Honey
Vegans try to avoid or minimize all forms of animal exploitation, including the bees. So, is honey vegan? Here’s the verdict: honey isn’t vegan, y’all.
The best way to protect the bees is to plant some flowers for our bee friends (the world can never have too many flowers), and look for alternatives. Try Bee Free Honee, maple syrup, agave nectar, coconut nectar, barley malt syrup, brown rice syrup, date syrup, molasses, or sorghum syrup.
Let me know if you have any favorites! Do it for the bees.