Bees produce honey as a food source to maintain the colony during the winter. Some people believe that taking this food source abuses and harms bees. Avoiding animal exploitation is a basic tenet of veganism, so most vegans don’t eat honey.
Honey is a natural product that many people enjoy for its sweetness, nutritional value and versatility. People use it in cooking, baking, traditional medicine and cosmetics.
Beekeeping, or apiculture, is the practice of maintaining honeybees and beehives to produce beeswax, honey, or other bee-related products.
Vegans avoid consuming or using products that harm or exploit animals, including meat, fish, dairy products, eggs, leather, shellac, silk or products that have been tested on animals. Many vegans consider beekeeping to be exploitative, so they don’t eat or use honey.
This article outlines the reasons why some people think honey is acceptable in a vegan lifestyle and why many vegans avoid honey. We also suggest some vegan alternatives to honey.
Bees collect nectar from flowers to make honey. Natural enzymes in bee saliva break the nectar down into fructose and glucose, which bees store in honeycombs to feed the hive during the winter. Constant fanning of bees’ wings evaporates excess water to leave thick, sticky honey.
Beekeepers remove honey from the hive and then strain it to remove wax and other particles. This leaves raw honey. Often raw honey is intensely heated or pasteurized to remove pathogens. The result is processed honey.
Learn more about raw versus processed honey here.
People may think that honey is acceptable in a vegan lifestyle because of several beliefs, including:
They believe that bees are not animals
Some people think that vegans avoid eating meat, fish and products derived from animals.
They believe more bees are good for the environment
Bees and other pollinators – such as wasps, beetles and flies – are essential for pollinating plants.
Without pollinators, plants cannot produce flowers, fruits and seeds. Therefore, it may seem logical that the more bees there are, the better it is for the natural environment. While this is partially true, large industrial-scale honeybee colonies tend to:
They believe that bees produce too much honey
Another reason why some vegans use honey is that they believe that bees produce more honey than they actually need. Thus, removing much of the honey from the hives does not deprive the bees of their food source.
However, this may be a simplistic view. According to the Natural Beekeeping Trust in the United Kingdom, honey bees don’t produce too much honey. Colonies of bees store honey to keep the hive warm in the winter and use it as an energy source during the months when there is little foraging.
Read more about vegan diets here.
Reasons why some vegans don’t eat or use honey products include:
They believe honey production exploits bees
Most honey is produced on an industrial scale by companies that manage huge colonies of honeybees. To maximize profits, they employ practices that some people consider exploitative.
- clipping queen bees’ wings to prevent them from leaving the colony
- using pesticides and antibiotics to control pests and pathogens
- feeding bees with inferior sugar syrup to replace their lost honey
They believe honey production harms ecosystems
Large scale beekeeping can perpetuate the spread of infection among pollinators. This may have contributed to the
Another effect of bees foraging on single crops is that they don’t get different nutrients, which harms their health. They may also be exposed to certain agricultural chemicals that cause them more harm.
There are many plant-based vegan alternatives to honey. They contain:
- maple syrup
- date syrup
- nectar of agave
- coconut nectar
- rice syrup
- barley malt syrup
- golden syrup
Vegans may want to check product labels carefully, as some syrups contain animal fats or animal-derived defoamers.
Read more about plant-based food here.
Most vegans choose not to consume honey or use honey-based products because they believe honey production exploits bees.
However, some people believe that breeding honey bees is ethical because they help pollinate plants. The counter-argument is that the ratio of honeybees to other pollinators is unbalanced and may contribute to a decline in pollinator diversity.
Large-scale honey producers employ practices that many vegans consider unethical, such as taking the nectar from the honey bees and replacing it with low-nutrient sugar syrup.
If vegans want the sweet taste and sticky consistency of honey, there are several plant-based alternatives, such as agave nectar and maple syrup.