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There is a common misconception that honey, aka bee vomit, is vegan-friendly, and it is often that people are bewildered to learn that honey bees don’t, in fact, make honey for us.
Honey, beeswax, bee pollen, royal jelly (bee milk), propolis, and bee venom – are all products of intensive labor from hardworking animals.
But exactly how cruel are these practices?
Bees are highly social and cooperative insects. They have a unique and complex form of communications that is based on sight, motion, and scent that even scientists don’t fully understand.
They are known to communicate with each other through intricate ‘dance’ movements.
Research has shown that bees are capable of abstract thinking, as well as distinguishing their family members from other bees in the hive.
Bees feed on pollen, but honey is their single source of food during poorer weather and winter months, which contains essential nutrients intended for them.
In order to fill their stomachs, honey bees will visit up to 1,500 flowers to collect enough nectar. When returning to the hive, the bee, along with other ‘house bees’, will regurgitate and chew the nectar, in a process that results in honey.
Each bee produces just a twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in his/her lifetime – and every ounce is fundamental to the hive.
Honey bees also fly 55,000 miles and visit two million flowers to produce one pound of honey.
Farmers are known to replace the honey they remove from a hive with a sugar substitute, which is substantially worse for the bees’ health. The cheap sugar replacer lacks the nutrients, fats, and vitamins that honey has.
This unethical practice prompts honey bees to overwork themselves to replace the missing honey.
During the removal of the honey, many bees die after stinging the farmers.
Another common practice among bee farmers is culling entire hives after harvesting the honey, in a bid to keep costs down. They often destroy the hives using cyanide gas.
Bees are also killed or have their wings and legs torn off by haphazard handling.
Beekepers will clip the queen bees’ wings to prevent them from leaving the hive and producing a new colony elsewhere – which would slash productivity and profit. Queen bees are also often artificially inseminated.
Farmed honey bee populations sometimes succumb to a disease called ‘colony collapse disorder’ – which scientists link to ‘bee management stress’, ‘pesticide poisoning’, and ‘inadequate forage/ poor nutrition’.
Honey bees are bred in order to increase productivity. However, breeding sometimes involves the import of different species of bees in a hive – which increases the susceptibility to disease and large-scale die-offs.
These diseases will then be spread to thousands of other pollinators that we and other animals rely on.
Due to the mass breeding of honey bees, the number of native bumble bees and various bird species have declined.
The importing of honey is also an environmental issue, since 90 percent of the honey consumed in the UK is transported mostly from China and Turkey, further increasing our carbon footprint.
So no, honey is neither vegan, or a necessary practice.
These hardworking animals don’t deserve to be exploited – they deserve to keep the labor of their work.
Honey can be easily replaced with vegan alternatives, such as rice syrup, agave nectar, maple syrup, molasses, barley malt, organic cane sugar, Sucanat, sorghum or fruit concentrates.