Why Honey Isn't So Sweet
A question we're often asked is "Why isn't honey vegan?" At a glance, it doesn't seem harmful to bees or the environment. A closer look reveals a very different story.
The honey they make is the optimal food source for bees. A bee will create about 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey over its entire working life. When beekeepers take honey from a hive, they replace it with a sugar substitute which is inferior in terms of nutritional benefits, pH, and enzymes. If we are trying to protect these animals, it's logical not to deprive them of their ideal source of nutrition. While some beekeepers claim to only take ‘surplus’ honey, it is not possible to judge how much the hive requires to function.
Bee-keeping is rife with cruelty. In large-scale bee farming, sometimes the hive is culled after the honey has been collected since it's cheaper than keeping the bees alive through the winter. Another practice is ‘smoking out’ bees when honey is collected, which is done to make the bees less likely to defend themselves. Bees are also bred for productivity, which narrows the gene pool, creates less species variety, increases disease, and makes them more susceptible to die-offs. Colonies are sometimes shipped around, especially in the US, to pollinate specific crops, such as almonds. This means that their hibernation is disrupted and could lead to the spreading of mites and diseases.
Beekeepers create havoc in hives. Conventional beekeepers often cut one of the wings of a mated queen bee. This is done to attempt to control swarming. It allows the beekeeper to split the colony artificially, creating two or more hives using the developing virgin queens that will soon emerge. At swarm time the clipped queen will be pushed out of the hive by the bees, whose natural instinct to swarm is in full flow. Unable to fly, she is likely to fall to the ground, followed by the swarm. She is exposed to the elements and predators and often unable to return. If the queen can return, she will be killed by the emerging virgin queens, and the hive will swarm anyway. There can be no greater stress for the bees in the initial swarm than to find themselves queen-less as they fly off. They may return to the hive seeking their queen, but sometimes they cluster nearby and fall in clumps to the ground as they weaken and die waiting for her to join them.
Honeybee hives aren't natural, and they don't help the environment. In fact, they may harm it. There are 21,000 thousand bee species and almost all of them live wild, solitary lives. Many are endangered, and some species have already disappeared. Farmed honey bees compete with wild bees for nectar, which can hurt wild bee populations. When flowers are abundant, there is plenty of pollen for both honeybees and wild bees. But in many landscapes, farmed honeybees can compete with wild bees for food, making it harder for wild species to survive. Wild bees are vital to ecosystems and to the planet because they pollinate thousands of plants and crops. Without bees, we'd lose 100% of almonds, and 90% of apples, onions, blueberries, cucumbers, and carrots. Unfortunately, when people buy honey thinking they are saving bees, they may actually be harming bees in the long run. Our planet needs bees. Honeybees, not so much.
There are so many alternatives to honey, anyway. Popular liquid sweeteners include maple syrup, agave nectar, barley malt syrup, brown rice syrup, date paste, molasses, Pyure Harmless Hunny, and Bee Free Honee, a delicious product made from apple juice. You can also use regular sugar, such as table sugar, coconut sugar, beet sugar, or date sugar.
So yes, taking honey from bees is exploitation of an animal, just like using any animal for milk or eggs. Therefore, honey can't be considered vegan. The animal gets hurt and/or destroyed in the process of humans using their bodies for food. We need to stop doing this. There are plenty of amazing plant foods we can eat to sustain a healthy life. No need to go where we aren't wanted just because we can.