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The topic of honey consumption by vegans can definitely a hot-button topic; however, to determine is honey vegan, one simply has to look at the definition of vegan. A vegan is a person who does not use or consume animal products. An animal product is anything that is derived from an animal. Honey is made by bees, making it an animal product. Therefore, honey is not vegan. Although this explains in a cut and dry way why honey isn’t vegan, one must delve into exactly how honey is made to understand why consuming it does not follow vegan ethics.
Honey is made by bees as a source of stored food, which they use to eat during cooler periods when they can’t forage and there are fewer flowers from which to gather food. Honey is truly the perfect food for bees, as its high sugar content makes it ideal for energy. Making honey is no small feat. Worker bees make endless trips to flowers to collect nectar. In order to produce just one pound of honey, a foraging bee must fly 55,000 miles, visiting up to 100 flowers. It takes about 556 of these bees, visiting a total of two million flowers. Once the nectar is collected, it is brought back to the hive, the bees secrete an enzyme in their mouths which mixes with the nectar and they then excrete it into the honeycomb (essentially, vomiting it out).
Honeycombs are also made by the bees using wax (which is also not vegan). Once excreted into the combs, the bees fan their wings to reduce the moisture of this pre-honey product. Once this evaporation is complete, the honey thickens, and bees cap it off using more wax. When a beekeeper harvests honey, they uncap these combs and rob the bees of this stored food source. They replace it with a much less nutritious sugar solution. This can be equated to someone coming into your home and replacing all of your nutritious food (which you’ve worked so hard to provide) with sugary drinks like soda. By removing honey from hives, beekeepers are robbing bees of their stored food source.
Monoculture’s effects on bees
Honey bees face numerous threats while being used to pollinate massive monoculture orchards and crops. They can routinely lose over 30% of their hives annually. Often beekeepers have to supplement bees with granulated sugar when pollinating large groves of almond trees. The almond flowers do not provide bees enough food by themselves. Steps can be taken to help the bees by offering a buffet of natural hedgerows and supporting flowering species of plants intermixed with the main crop being pollinated. Making habitats surrounding monoculture almond orchard can help give honey bees and native pollinators the optimal nutritional requirements they need.
Vegan Honey Replacements
Check out these Alternatives to honey
In addition to starvation bees also face insecticides used on food crops that keep pests from ruining the harvest. The pesticides not only harm honey bees, but also native pollinators like the bumblebee. Adopting pesticide mitigation strategies may help reduce exposure to pesticides that are harmful to not only the honey bees working the crops but also native bumblebees.
Honey bees are trucked many miles from different states to pollinate the almond groves. The different hives are all deposited at locations near the groves. This intermixing of bees can be a hazard in its self to the hive’s health. Varroa destructor is a parasitic mite that feeds on honey bees and can spread from hive to hive through the workers interacting with each other. Also, there are a whole host of diseases that can spread from hive to hive.
Sometimes beekeepers will also damage other beekeepers hives either by accident or to deliberately sabotage a competitor so they win a contract to pollinate the grove.
So is honey vegan?
Honey is not vegan simply due to the fact that it comes from a living thing. In addition, once the process of honey creation is explored, it becomes even more obvious why it is unethical to consume or use honey. Bees need honey to survive and thrive. Humans do not need honey, and therefore, it should be left for the bees to consume as nature intended.
If you’re interested in vegan alternatives to honey we encourage you to explore vegan honey substitutes.