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Is Honey Vegan?

An ongoing debate within the vegan community

A photograph of a honey dipper in a glass of honey.

Out of all the different strides vegans make to ensure their lifestyle is not aided by exploitation and cruelty towards animals, there’s one question that is highly divisive in the usually-united community: is honey vegan? Immediately, you’ll be inclined to answer “no”: since honey is a product coming from bees, it can be considered to be exploitation, which according to The Vegan Society’s definition is intrinsically un-vegan. However, there are a lot of questions and possible exceptions to this hard-and-fast ruling that has kept this discussion talked about constantly within the vegan community. Let’s take a closer look at why people do and don’t consume honey, and whether honey can be vegan.


Commercial beekeeping


In terms of animal cruelty and exploitation, most commercial beekeeping goes against vegan beliefs due to not only its treatment of bees, but its overall effect on the environment. Bees need their honey to survive cold and damp seasons; commercial beekeeping takes their honey and gives them cheap replacements like sugar water, which lacks the nutrients bees need. Additionally, beekeepers clip the Queen bee’s wings to stop the colony from leaving; the Queen is also artificially inseminated. Not only this, but commercial beekeeping damages wild bees, as commercially-kept bees will take all the pollen in a certain area — from crops that have damaging chemicals sprayed on them. This cruel treatment of bees paired with its damage on the ecosystem makes it difficult to understand vegans who argue they can still eat it — but those that do usually say so because they’re not consuming commercial honey; they’re consuming local honey.


Local Beekeeping


On paper, local beekeeping attempts to fix the problems commercial beekeeping causes. For those who keep their own bees, it’s an almost ‘pet’-like relationship — some only take the excess honey the bees develop, leaving them with plenty to survive; some don’t take honey at all, instead giving the colony a stable home. While these beekeepers may make decisions that accidentally lead to death, such as switching out a Queen, their focus is on preserving and growing their colony. For some, this fixes the problem of commercially-sourced honey; they know where the honey comes from, and know the beekeeper is not abusing their bees for profit. For others, there are still issues. When beekeepers say they only take ‘excess’ honey, how are they determining that excess? Humans have no scope for how much honey a colony may need. Also, these bees are still working around the clock to make honey only to have portions taken from them.


Honey Alternatives


Ultimately, we don’t need honey to survive; but for some, being a vegan and consuming honey is something that can coexist, if locally sourced. No single person can determine if you’re a ‘lesser’ vegan for still deciding to consume honey; that’s a choice only you can make. That being said, there are many plant-based alternatives to the product — maple syrup and agave nectar, to name a few — that can fulfil the purpose of honey in a vegan diet. Of course, it’s important to support the bees regardless of your lifestyle choices — why not consider planting a bee-friendly garden, to help bees thrive?

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