Bees, Honey, and the Ethics Concerning the Industry

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By Paige Arden

“Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”

-The Vegan Society

One of the largest misconceptions surrounding the honey industry is that bees do not actually need or use the honey they produce. Some even argue that the honey that bees make has no other purpose than to be taken by humans for use outside the hive. The ignorance in such a statement is astounding. Bees make honey for bees and when it is harvested by beekeepers or other such humans, the health risks towards the bees can reach potentially extreme levels.

Honey is used by bees as their energy source- making it is what they are alive to do. Without honey, the bees would starve. Those who believe that honey bees make more than is needed are not taking into account the fact that fall and winter months are long and cold. There is a reason why bees are more visible during the spring and summer months- they store their honey and keep a supply year-round, or at least until they all die off.

Exploitation is the first word that comes to mind where the honey industry is concerned. When the honey is stolen from the bees after they worked for months to produce enough to last them through the winter, the standard practice is for the beekeepers to replace the nectar with a sugar-water solution. This solution has devastating effects on the lifespan of a bee. The sugar water has none of the protective antibodies or antioxidants that serves to shield the bee from disease. If the bees are dying due to stealing their livelihood from them, then bee farming is in direct correlation with the world’s current crisis concerning their reproduction. No bees mean no natural pollination which is ever so crucial to the lives of humans. This has been dubbed by scientists “colony collapse disorder,” which in itself shows the severity of the issue.

In case there is still some confusion surrounding the fact, honey is not vegan. It is a direct exploitation of the resources that the bees need to survive. To link it with the Vegan Society’s definition of veganism- which advises against “all forms of exploitation,” honey does not meet those standards.

Another argument made by those who eat honey, particularly by those who claim to follow a vegan lifestyle, is about a bee’s animal status. They say that since harvesting, when done properly and in small and practically unnoticeable amounts, does not actually harm the bee physically, then there is no reason not to take it. Additionally, if a person can kill mosquitoes or spiders and not be called out on it, then why hold bees in a higher regard?

The issue lies with circumstance as well as status. By definition, an animal is “a living organism that feeds on organic matter”(Oxford). They are a part of the animal kingdom, they feel pain, and they have just as much of a right to life as a pigeon or a salmon does.

In many commercial honey productions, the queen bee both has her wings removed from her to hinder her ability to escape the hive and build a different life, and is artificially inseminated so that she is forced to colonize the hive she lives in. Often times, these hives are man-made, which mean that this change of natural order is already detrimental to the bee’s ability to properly function. Beekeepers then steal most, if not all, of the honey produced in an attempt to garner the largest profit. Taking just the excess was questionable enough, but could you actually see yourself purchasing a product from the supermarket that you know has caused the death of the very insects so crucial to the health of our environment?

It is more than just exploitation. Bee farming is a form of enslavement. They work their entire lives to make a product that they have been making since their very creation, just to have it stolen from them. They become more susceptible to disease, they have their wings cut off, they die for no reason other than to allow a human to “naturally” sweeten their tea.

According to reports from USDA, 2016 saw 2.77 million honeybee colonies creating 161.8 million pounds of raw honey to be sold and exploited. With so many “save the bee” campaigns happening worldwide, it is essential that people, especially honey-eating vegans, join the movement and start helping rather than hindering the repopulation of the bees. It is a necessary step to take not only for their own health and security, but to ensure the pollination of the world around us for generations to come.

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