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Veganism: What's Wrong with Honey?

Updated on September 28, 2014
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"You don't eat honey?!?!"

Nothing causes people's eyes to roll and jaws to drop like when I tell them that, as a vegan, I do not eat honey.

Omnivores readily comprehend, even if they don't share my views, why I do not consume meat. Most can understand, though perhaps not fully appreciate, why I do not eat eggs or dairy products. But when it comes to honey, a lot of people just think I'm taking an extreme stance for some bizarre, illogical reason.

I suppose that wouldn't be so bad, except I suspect it makes the entire vegan community appear to be hippie-dippy-silly in their eyes. It's as if compassion for insects negates the entire vegan philosophy, though I'd argue that it only reinforces veganism's integrity.

I explain that vegans endeavor to live their lives without exploiting other animals for food or other products. Since bees are living creatures - and are capable of feeling pain - it would not be ethical for me to consume products made by bees and then stolen from them.

Although it is often dismissed as a non-issue, considerable environmental damage and animal cruelty results from modern bee-farming practices.

Beehive

Source

Commercial Honey Production

As with other commercial farming practices, honey production is about making money, not about treating bees with kindness. Queen bees are selectively bred and artificially inseminated. Some beekeepers clip the queen's wings in order to control her movement. The queen is typically "replaced," which is to say "killed," every year or two to maximize production, though a queen bee would typically live to be five years old in her natural environment.

Alternatives to Honey

Agave is generally touted as being the best alternative to honey. But maple syrup, barley syrup, or brown rice syrup can also make good substitutes.

Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Blue Agave Nectar, 36 Ounce
Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Blue Agave Nectar, 36 Ounce

Agave nectar is the best alternative I've found! In addition to being sweet, it is low on the glycemic index, making it an excellent sweetener for people with diabetes.

 
Beekeeper
Beekeeper | Source

In order to take the honey from the hive (along with other products the bees have produced: bee pollen, royal jelly, beeswax, and propolis), the bees need to be removed from the hive. This is done using various methods, including shaking the hive and using smoke, noxious fumes, or forced air to evict the bees from their home.

Even the most careful, conscientious beekeeper cannot help but crush or step on some of the bees while removing them from the hive.

There are some facilities that kill all their bees after harvesting their honey in the fall so as to avoid caring for them during the winter. The bees are killed by either allowing them to starve to death or by burning the hive.

(I have heard from a couple of local beekeepers that they would never do this, so I assume this practice is not an industry standard, at least for smaller-scale beekeepers. But it does happen with enough consistency to make it an issue of concern.)

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Sick Bees

Entire bee colonies are destroyed in order to control disease. Bees appear to be increasingly susceptible to various diseases due to the high level of inbreeding common in artificially created and maintained hives.

Another cause for depleted immune systems is poor nutrition. Pollen is the main source of food for bees, providing all the nutrients the bees need to remain healthy. During the winter months, when flower pollen is unavailable, bees consume the honey they produced earlier in the year. (Honey is made through a series of regurgitations of partially digested pollen; the resulting material is then dried off by the bees by vigorously fanning their wings nearby for a considerable amount of time.) Honey has sufficient sugars and trace nutrients to keep the hive alive and well until flowers bloom again in the springtime. This is what happens in a natural setting, anyway.

When honey is taken from the beehive, the bees are left without adequate honey to consume during the winter. In order to keep bees alive (if the colony is not killed), beekeepers feed the bees a syrup derived from sugar. This syrup has sufficient calories to sustain bees, but it does not contain any other nutrient value. This means that the bees are not as healthy as they would be if they ate their own honey, and they are more prone to disease. Because of their weakened immune systems, antibiotics are often mixed into the syrup fed to the bees.

Source

Colony Collapse Disorder

Perhaps it is due to their compromised immune systems, inbreeding, and/or general lack of balance caused by modern farming practices that a dramatic number of bees have been dying recently. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is the term given to this alarming drop in bee populations, the exact cause of which is still unknown. It is estimated that one-third of bee colonies in the United States have disappeared in the last few years.

Colony Collapse Disorder may have tremendous repercussions. The declining bee population means there are fewer animals to pollinate not only garden flowers, but many crops as well, including onions, broccoli, cucumbers, strawberries, and blueberries.

Alternatives to Honey, Wax, and Other Products Made by Bees

Perhaps the most ridiculous part of the cruelty associated with honey production is the fact that honey is just a sweetener! It is not necessary for human consumption in any way, shape, or form, as its only nutritional value to us is calorie content. (The trace nutrients may be enough for bees, but they are insufficient to be counted for human nutritional benefit.)

Agave nectar is an easy and delicious substitute for honey, having a very similar taste and consistency. (Some varieties of agave nectar are said to taste just like honey!) Agave nectar does not cause a spike in the body's level of glucose, making it a particularly healthy alternative for people with diabetes. Maple syrup is also an excellent substitute for honey in various recipes. Other alternatives include rice syrup, barley syrup, and molasses.

All other products that are made by bees can also be made from vegan sources. You can buy vegan candles, lip balm, dental floss, and other products.

Lip Care

Booda Butter - Handmade, Organic & Vegan Lip Balm
Booda Butter - Handmade, Organic & Vegan Lip Balm

Fortunately, there are vegan-friendly lip care products that do not contain ingredients obtained from the work of bees.

 

What Do You Think?

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    • savateuse profile image

      savateuse 3 years ago

      Very interesting article on a topic I hadn't thought much about before. Thanks!

    • Valerie Bloom profile image
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      Valerie Bloom 3 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @MelanieKaren: Thanks you so much! I really appreciate you stopping by to take a look!

    • MelanieKaren profile image

      Melanie Wilcox 3 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      hi :) This is a really well written article packed with information and education. I read it thoroughly and happened upon it from the featured articles section on the front page of GoodVeg too. So, congratulations for that too! :D

    • Valerie Bloom profile image
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      Valerie Bloom 3 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @ForGoodPeople: Thank you so much!

    • ForGoodPeople profile image

      Pinar Unlu 3 years ago from Mugla Turkey

      Thanks, it's a great lens. I am a vegetarian, the information given in this lens is impressive..

    • Valerie Bloom profile image
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      Valerie Bloom 4 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @lesliesinclair: Indeed, the "agribusiness" large-scale corporate farms contribute incredibly to ecological destruction in many ways, not the least of which are fertilizers, pesticides, and antibiotics leeching into groundwater, soil, and air. The native bee populations seem to be particularly susceptible to such poisons, though there may be a variety of factors involved in that. I think it would be fair to say that the bees are similar to the "canary in the mines," their death giving us notice that we are facing a dire situation ourselves!

    • lesliesinclair profile image

      lesliesinclair 4 years ago

      Thanks for giving your perspective so I can better grasp the reasoning behind veganism and how you regard honey as not an acceptable food. It's shocking to learn that some commercial beekeepers kill their bees after the year's production comes to a conclusion. About colony collapse though, aren't we learning about how the real culprit is the megacommercial farming conglomerates' uses of chemicals in fertilizers and pesticides?

    • Valerie Bloom profile image
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      Valerie Bloom 4 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @anonymous: Thanks!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      FB liked....so others can think too!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      The bottom line sounds like our love for honey could be the cause of unhealthy bees and CCD, that does make sense now that I think of it. I've known bee keepers and they would never even consider killing off their hives, so that really took me by surprise. My brain worked quick and "got it" about why vegans wouldn't eat honey since its processed through the bee but I had never thought of that before either....very well done and thought provoking, in fact I let this sit for a while to digest it.

    • Valerie Bloom profile image
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      Valerie Bloom 5 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @anonymous: Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. My understanding is that domesticated honey bees aren't pollinating the same crops and/or the same amounts as native bee populations. But more significantly, when the bees -- domesticated or native -- suffer from CCD, then not as many crops are being pollinated. While most beekeepers do not engage in routine destruction of their hives, some do, so this is a concern. If only diseased colonies are destroyed, then CCD is, again, a major concern. Thanks again!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I'm not convinced by your facts:

      research suggests that a third of our fruit and vegetable crops rely on honeybees for pollination and, with feral bees surviving in only a handful of places around the UK, that means the food you are eating is in part produced by beekeepers/honey producers;

      I don't know anyone who would destroy anything other than a diseased colony when a replacement costs over 150.

      Just thoughts.

    • Valerie Bloom profile image
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      Valerie Bloom 5 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @Echo Phoenix: Thank you for your comments! I think that most of the information out there is, as you say, about environmental pressures on honey bees. Not many people know that the bees can be abused -- perhaps part of the issue is that most people find it much more difficult to care about insects than about mammals.

    • profile image

      Echo Phoenix 5 years ago

      I care a lot about the bees yet this is truly the first I have heard of them being abused, I thought their problems mostly stemmed from the pesticides (I have been researching CCD and actually considering a bee farm to help them??) but your lens gives me a whole other view on this... and I have to give up honey now! the agave nectar is the way to go. thanks for this informative lens:)

    • Valerie Bloom profile image
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      Valerie Bloom 5 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @RinchenChodron: Thank you! Agave is so delicious and is a natural replacement for honey. Cheers!

    • Valerie Bloom profile image
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      Valerie Bloom 5 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @sherioz: I'm sorry! I wish farming practices didn't involve such unacceptable cruelty. I had just become vegetarian when I first heard of veganism, and I remember how crushing it felt to realize how inhumanely animals are treated, even when they're raised for products other than meat. :-(

    • profile image

      RinchenChodron 5 years ago

      Very informative - I love agave anyway so now that will be all I use.

    • profile image

      sherioz 5 years ago

      I'm sorry I read this! Now you spoiled honey for me!! I am vegetarian and now you have made me honeyatarian as well. I better not read your lens on eggs and milk. I will check and see if bee-keeping here in Israel is as cruel as you write. Small market here - perhaps it is different. I only buy eggs from free range chickens. I think I should visit the farms that are said to keep these free range chickens and see if it's true. This is an important if difficult lens. Thanks for opening my eyes.

    • Valerie Bloom profile image
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      Valerie Bloom 5 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @Diana Wenzel: Thank you so very much for your comments! The situation with honey and bees is truly critical, but it tends to be met with rolling eyes because they're "just bees" and so "who cares?" But the smallest amongst us can have tremendous impact.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 5 years ago from Colorado

      I can very much appreciate your choice not to eat or associate yourself with honey. My eyes were opened upon reading Fruitless Fall. It was extremely disheartening. When I read about the malnutrition caused by feeding bees corn syrup, and the beekeepers who consider their bee colonies "disposable," in addition to the jet lag of forcing bees to give up normal periods of rest and hibernation, I began to rethink honey and our treatment of bees. Renting hives is big business and the bees engaged in that practice often suffer. I have stopped buying honey. There are just too many questionable practices associated with the mass production of honey and related products.