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Insight: Can beekeeping be ethical? Is honey vegan

To Eat Honey or Not to Eat Honey

If you are vegan, this is probably one of the things you and your circle of friends have been debating about: Is honey vegan? Is beekeeping ethical? Is beekeeping ethical farming? The question goes on and on. But what is the bottom line when it comes to vegan and honey? What should you know about honey and beekeeping? If you are a new vegan, then you must continue reading. If you have been vegan your whole life, it is good to know some of the things below to straighten out the facts about sustainable living.

Let us take a look at this issue from the flowers, to the farm, the process of producing honey, and the product itself.


Beekeeping as an Industry: What Goes On Inside a Bee Farm

A hive consists of tens of thousands of bees; Bees live a complex life. Each bee has a mission to fulfill. You can watch the "Bee Movie" and see how complex the life of each bee. Each hive has one queen, hundreds of drones, and thousands of workers. Queens have as long as 5 years to live. But some bees only live as long as a few weeks.

The worker bee is in charge of feeding the hive, taking care of the queen, building the comb, foraging, cleaning, ventilating, and even guarding the hive. If you think they have a lot to do, the queen's duty is to lay 250,000 eggs each year to as many as a million over her lifetime. When she is done with her reign the new queen together with half of the hive will leave their home and build a new one. Each bee works 12 hours a day, visits hundreds of blossoms a day, and make about ten journeys a day with each trip lasting about an hour. There is almost no rest for them, which is why most worker bees only live a month. In a honey bee colony, every member has its task to perform, and every bee has its place.


Bees communicate in a very unique way. They use sight, motion, and scent to understand each other. They even have a dance that points bees where the flowers are. Some scientists even argue that bees have memories.

The beekeeping industry in the US for the past five years has been on a positive trend. According to USDA, honey-producing colonies have declined between 2018-2019, which means that hives have been lost due to colony collapse disorder. Honey production rose in the same period. The market size is now at $767 million. There are about over 12,000 businesses including the top 3 biggest honey producers, Adee Honey Farms, Olson's Honey Market, and Sioux Honey Association Co-op.

Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic, the beekeeping industry is projected to a 1.6% decline as consumer spending declines. Technically, beekeeping is when operators raise bees in a farm to collect, gather and sell honey, royal jelly, beeswax, propolis, and other bee products.


How is Honey Produced?

So, how do we get honey from bees? Plants produce nectar. This attracts pollinators such as bees, butterflies, bats, and other mammals). That's correct, there are other pollinators aside from bees. Pollination is needed to successfully reproduce plants. Bees collect and use nectar and make it honey. Nectars contain a lot of water so bees process this into honey by vomiting it to another bee to add enzymes from their own body. This converts the nectar into honey (soon enough. Well, after a couple more vomits). Then it is stored in the hive and sealed with beeswax. It will then be converted to honey.

But why do bees produce honey? Is it for human consumption? Actually, NO! It is for bees. Honey bees make honey as a way of storing food for them to eat over the cooler winter period. There are zero to few flowers where they can gather food during the winter season which is why they store honey to feed themselves and their queen.

Fun Fact: Bees beat their wings to regulate the temperature of the hive. Even when they are not outside the hive foraging food, they still are busy bees working. Talk about work from home! (You are not the only one working from home during this time of pandemic)


Honey Is For Vegans vs. Honey Is NOT for Vegans

Quick Answer! Vegans try to avoid all forms of animal exploitation, including that of bees. This means that MOST vegans do not include honey in their diets. Other vegans avoid honey to stand up against those who practice none ethical farming practices. But SOME vegans eat honey.


So, where do vegans draw the line when it comes to sustainable food sources? How come some vegans avoid honey and some don't? Let's take a look behind the reasons why they choose not to eat honey and why some eat honey:



  • Some say that bees are incapable of feeling pain which is why it is not exploiting animals.
  • Anecdotal reasons for vegans eating honey include not classifying insects as animals
  • Bee Free Honee, a company that produces plant-based alternatives made with apples, cane sugar, and lemon juice.



  • Because it exploits the labor of bees. The process of harvesting honey is considered immoral especially large scale beekeeping farms.
  • Honey is for the bees alone and not for humans to harvest. It is their food during the winter season.


Does Ethical Honey Exist?

There is a group of people who claim to have a bee-centered approach to hive management. They offer a different perspective to bee-issues to help the whole community of beekeepers. Apiceuticals is an example of a small family run business that claims to have a "balanced" organic beekeeping practices. The company claims to respect bees by helping them grow organically by harvest control, hive protection, hive treatment, and honey extraction.


Vegan Alternatives to Honey

There are several plant-based options to replace honey. Here is a list of honey substitutes that are ethical and sustainable:

  • Maple syrup
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Barley malt syrup
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Date syrup
  • Bee Free Honee

There are other vegan alternatives to honey you can choose from. However, these are all rich in sugar which means you have to consume in moderation so that your blood sugar levels do not shoot up.


Bottom line

As a vegan, our main priority is to avoid or minimize all forms of cruelty to animals. If you can consider the arguments presented above and do a little bit more research, you can exclude honey from your diet. Instead, replace it with other syrups that are ethical, sustainable, and give you the right amount of sweets.

1 comment

  • I am a beekeeper and beekeepers only take the excess amount of honey that Honeybees produce. If we didn’t take the excess, they would swarm, leaving the hive to go to the wilderness where they would die. The main honeybee that exists in the US isn’t here natively and would die without human support. There aren’t enough native species left to pollinate all of the crops that need pollination (especially almonds).
    If you want to support animal welfare, the best thing you can do for bees is to plant pollinator-friendly habitats and buy local honey from beekeepers so they can keep these pollinators alive.


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