It’s a question which plagues vegan forums, stirring up controversy wherever it goes. So, for once and for all, let’s put the matter to rest.
Veganism excludes, as far as is practicable, all forms of animal exploitation and cruelty. So...
What’s cruel about honey?
Unfortunately, quite a few things.
The queen bee often has her wings cut off so she can’t leave the colony, and is artificially inseminated using drone bees, who are killed in the process. The queen bee then is unable to fly or follow her natural instincts, and instead is used in a repetitive cycle of impregnation so that the beekeepers get as many bees out of her as possible.
It’s a reproductive system with obvious parallels to the dairy industry, and, much like cows’ milk is for calves, bees produce honey for themselves to live on over the winter. Beekeepers remove the bees’ honey and substitute it with an inferior sugary syrup which lacks essential micro-nutrients for the bees’ health, and use the honey for their own profit.
Bees are consequently more susceptible to disease, leading to colony collapse disorder and the needless death of millions of bees. Moreover, beekeepers often cull the bees in winter, because it’s cheaper to do that than feed them on sugar, which leads to thousands of deaths in a single hive.
But isn’t honey at least good for the environment?
It’s an understandable assumption to make. We hear that the bee population is dying. We think, ‘well it must be good that humans are holding up the honeybee population’. We decide, reasonably enough, that buying honey must at the very least help the environment, even if it causes suffering and death for bees.
However, human interference with honeybees has had devastating effects on other pollinators, such as the bumblebee, which can’t compete with the mass wave of honey bees produced by beekeepers.
In other words, we’re pushing out a wide variety of pollinators so that the honeybee dominates - a bee which, because humans have selectively bred them, have a narrow range of genes and are easily susceptible to wide-scale disease. It’s like relying on just one crop to survive - if that one crop catches a disease, we’re done for. We’re asking for an environmental disaster if we do the same with the honeybee to hold up our food system.
So, what’s the solution?
When we commodify animals for our own profit, we are opening the door to cruelty and exploitation of those very same animals, all for a product we don’t need, just like eggs, dairy or meat.
Fortunately, we don’t have to pay into this industry. There are plenty of cruelty-free alternatives, such as agave syrup, maple syrup, molasses, and even vegan honey. No vegan would want to pull the wings of a bee, kill them when they become unprofitable, or damage their health for our own gain.
That's why honey isn’t vegan, so let’s not pay into the cruelty of it.