If we look at the beekeeping industry as a whole, the answer is no. Beekeeping isn't vegan. But depending on how you choose to keep bees, it can be considered a vegan practice.
We keep bees because they produce honey. Even so, there is a common misconception that though honey is made by bees, it is vegan-friendly. That is not the case.
Standard beekeeping, (though often overlooked) is an exploitative practice.
Why Bees need their honey
Making honey isn’t something bees do for us. Without honey, the bees would starve. Honey is their single source of food during poor weather and winter months. It’s what bees survive on when the hive cannot forage for pollen, and it contains nutrients necessary for the health of the bees.
How bees make honey
To make honey, bees will visit up to 1,500 flowers to collect nectar. They then return to their hive and regurgitate and chew the nectar along with other house bees until it turns into honey. The bees work together as a collective to provide honey to all members of the hive.
The unethical practices of beekeeping
Because beekeepers want honey, farmers are known to replace honey with cheap replacements such as sugar water and high fructose corn syrup which lacks the nutrients and vitamins bees need. This leaves bees without their store for winter and forces them to feed on cheap replacement instead of honey.
Entomologists from the University of Illinois found a possible link between the decrease of the honey bee population and the high fructose corn syrup bees consume. The use of honey substitutes can affect bees' ability to cope with pesticides and contribute to the decrease of honey bee colonies.
‘Colony Collapse Disorder’ Is a disease that farmed honey bee populations can succumb to and it’s believed to be linked to bee management stress, pesticide poisoning, and poor nutrition.
Another common practice within beekeeping is to clip the Queen bee's wings to prevent the colony from leaving. The Queen bee is also often artificially inseminated.
Is vegan beekeeping possible?
With everything mentioned above, it’s hard to believe that there is a way to keep bees as a vegan. But Lynne, proves it possible.
Lynne over at TheBareFootVegan is a vegan who keeps bees in her garden. But what differentiates her from other beekeepers?
Instead of taking her bees honey, she lets them keep it as storage during winter. According to the article, she sees herself more like a “host” to the bees than a beekeeper. She does not try to control the Queen or the hive, she simply gives the bees home in her garden. Does this count as vegan beekeeping?
If we eliminated the demand for honey, bees would no longer have to suffer the way they do in conventional beekeeping. Bees deserve a life without obligations to humans.
Here’s some tips on how to support your local bees
A simple way to help the bees is to plant something. Bees need agriculture to pollinate. By simply planting some flowers or not mowing your lawn as often you are giving them landscape to pollinate. Fill your garden with flowering plants to provide food and habitat for bees. Plant native flowers, these Seed bombs, and other blossoms and refrain from removing weeds and wildflowers from your garden. You can also donate to a charity, Bumblebee Conservation for example.
Is honey off the menu for good?
There are many vegan alternatives available, such as maple syrup, molasses, and rice syrup. The important thing is to choose a sweetener that is sustainable and as cruelty-free as possible.
Hopefully, this article shed some light on the bee industry. The reality is that honey and beekeeping is a bit of a grey area. It’s not as simple as defining whether slaughtering cows to make beef is vegan. Bees and beekeeping is a complex topic, and there are a lot of factors involved.
In the end, it’s up to you to decide what the most sustainable choice is. Perhaps that is to purchase honey from local balanced beekeepers (beekeepers who only take honey when it’s in abundance)? And as a beekeeper, how will you keep bees sustainably and ethically?