As vegans, we're asked these questions all the time. Do vegans eat honey? The answer is no. Why not? Because vegans do not eat animals or exploit other creatures, and that includes honey bees.
Why don't vegans eat honey?
Bees do not make honey for us, they make it for their hive. To take it from them when they have no possible way to consent to producing honey for us is morally and ethically wrong, and does not align itself with the vegan lifestyle.
Commercial beehives built to allow humans to take honey from bees are not natural; they are engineered. The queen bee is manipulated to remain in the hive, and her worker bees will not desert her. When humans want to steal their honey, honey bees are forcibly subdued and intentionally made confused, before the honey they made for themselves is taken from them and sold for profit.
Why else do vegans not eat honey?
There are a number of other reasons vegans can't eat honey.
- Bees do not make honey for humans, they make it for themselves. Bees have no way to consent to producing honey specifically for humans. This is exploitation of another creature and is against veganism.
- The process of extracting honey from a hive is extremely stressful for bees. Commercial methods of honey collection destroy hives and kill many bees.
- Bees are often given a sugar substitute to replace the honey humans have taken, which lacks the essential nutrients they need.
- Often, beehives are culled after harvest to reduce costs and increase profits.
- Queen bees sometimes have their wings clipped to prevent them from leaving their hive.
- Queen bees are often artificially inseminated with the semen of a crushed male bee and then sold online to wannabe beekeepers.
- Selective breeding of honeybees is negatively impacting other nectar gathering creatures and destroying the environment.
Bees and their honey
In her lifetime, a worker bee will produce just one eighth of a teaspoon of honey. When you add a teaspoon of honey to your porridge, you’re eating the lifework of eight living beings to your cereal.
Honey is a source of nourishment for bees. If they did not have it, they would starve. When humans take honey from the bees who produced it, they replace it with a sugar solution, which does not contain the nutrients that bees need to survive in optimum health. Images of the stomachs of bees fed on sugar water are smaller and more shriveled than the healthy looking stomachs of bees who eat honey.
To produce just 1 pound of honey, bees must visit 2 million flowers.
Bees will do anything to protect their hive and the honey that they produce, delivering stings to intruders even though it will kill them.
To extract honey, bees need to be subdued, and beekeepers do this through smoking. Smoke makes bees think that their hive is on fire, and they instinctively begin to respond as though it is, which involves eating as much honey as they can in order to prepare themselves to leave the hive. When they’re full of honey, they become lethargic and much less likely to sting.
Smoke also affects a bee's sense of smell, which stops them from excreting a warning to their fellow bees that they’re being invaded.
If the smoke temperature is too high, it can melt the bees' wings.
Normal bee behaviour will not return for 10-20 minutes.
At large, industrial type facilities, honey is scraped from the honeycombs using a large machine, which crushes any bees who, in their panic, happen to get in its way.
The abuse of Queen bees
Did you know you can order queen bees on the internet? Well you can.
With just a few clicks of your mouse, you can buy a mated queen bee and attendant workers, and they'll be delivered to you in the post.
Treating living creatures in this way is not an action that aligns itself with vegan principles.
In most cases, mated queen bees have been artificially inseminated with the semen of a male bee. The male be has often been crushed in order to extract his semen for the insemination.
Worker bees will follow their queen wherever she goes, and there is no guarantee that a queen bee will stay in the hive she is allocated by her human captors. To make sure that she does, most queen bees are 'clipped'. This involves cutting off her wings so that she can't fly away.
Her worker bees will never desert her, so this is an effective way of ensuring that the queen bee and her family have no choice but to make their honey in the space allocated to them by the humans who have bought them, where it can easily be taken for them when the time comes.
Bees and the environment
Everybody knows how important it is that we do not let our bee populations die. Bees pollinate 100 different types of crops, and those crops feed 90% of the world. It is not difficult to work out what would happen if the bees were gone.
You might think that buying honey is actually helping the planet. Surely more beehives means more bees, and buying honey is a good way of making sure we have more hives, right?
Bees are regularly culled
The bees who made the honey you buy in the supermarket will probably be culled in the autumn.
Bees work really hard to make enough honey to see them through the winter, but then humans take it from them. For most beekeepers, it is cheaper to cull the hive and start again in the spring than it is to feed the bees through the winter months.
Sometimes they won't cull the whole hive, but they will kill their queen. The worker bees will climb into another hive to serve somewhere else.
We're killing other bees through mass breeding
Not all bees make honey, and those that do make it in varying qualities and quantities. Buying honey from beekeepers increases supply and demand. When there’s more demand for honey, beekeepers breed more honey bees.
Whilst almost every other species of bee (there are 20,000 altogether) is declining in numbers, the honey bee population has risen by 45% in the last 50 years. That’s not good news.
Honey bees are native to Asia, Europe and Africa, but humans transported them across the world as part of the domestication of bees around 9,000 years ago. Native bees were either adapted or were forced into extinction.
They don't often live in harmony with wild bees. Species are forced to compete for space and food, and commercially raised bees sometimes spread diseases that are fatal for other species of bee.
I heard buying honey will help the bees?
This is incorrect information. Bees are exploited, and buying their honey gives profit to the people who are exploiting them and allows them to carry on doing it.
Beekeeping is not natural. If you want to help bees, you should look at ways to increase their numbers in nature, instead of funding an industry that it largely about profit.
Some natural ways to support bees include:
- Plant bee-friendly flowers in your garden.
- Avoid chemical and pesticides that kill bees.
- Provide the hive, but leave the bees to it.
- If you see a tired bee stranded on the pavement, take them inside and give them some sugar solution for a quick burst of energy.
Are there vegan alternatives to honey?
There are many alternative ways to sweeten your food or drinks without taking honey from bees.
Agave syrup is commercially produced by extracting from the agave plant. It comes in a variety of flavours, from deep, thick and caramel like to light and sweet like honey.
Many vegans favour maple syrup as a honey substitute because you can buy it in its natural form. Maple syrup is made from the xylem sap of sugar maple, red maple or black maple trees.
Barley malt syrup
Most vegans describe barley malt syrup as the closest honey substitute you can find.
Most non-vegans think they've never had molasses, but it's an ingredient in baked beans. It has a thick, sugary taste, and is made by refining sugarcane or sugar beets.