For a long time, honey has been touted as a glorious, natural product, useful in many different situations, with a range of supposed health benefits. But, with veganism on the rise, the sweet, bee-byproduct has come into question as many discuss whether or not eating honey is ethical.
Like many different areas of our modern diets, when it comes to deciding what is morally ‘good’ or not, is a tricky conversation that definitely does not have a black and white answer.
Whilst the production of honey may not be as visibly harmful to animals as other industries such as rearing cattle, there are still issues to consider.
Whether you decide to consume honey is ultimately a personal choice, as you weigh up the pros and cons, but you may consider more bee-friendly alternatives if so.
Is Honey Vegan?
In short, no. Honey is a by-product of a living, breathing thing, which by the most stringent meaning of the word, is not vegan.
Whilst the bees themselves may face harm that comes from the collection of honey, it is often a larger, environmental impact that sways vegans to avoid honey. Even if you don’t label yourself as a vegan and instead are just looking for ways to eat more compassionately, honey could be one to avoid.
Whilst, like most things, there are exceptions, a lot of vegans do choose to remove honey from their diets. Whilst the creation of honey by bees is natural and something that will continue to happen outside of large-scale manufacture, it is the wider implications of industrialised production that is an issue.
This is a similar argument that many have when it comes to eating eggs – whilst chickens lay eggs regardless, it is the killing of baby chicks and the bad conditions the hens are kept in that makes the process not vegan.
Why is Eating Honey Unethical?
Bees are an integral part of the global supply of food and without them, the human race faces complete extinction.
As bees pollinate around one-sixth of all flowering plants worldwide, as well as 400 different agricultural plants, not only do they allow us to produce fruits and vegetables for human consumption but also for those used to feed animals in the industrial production of meats.
Whilst in the western world, a lot of us choose to remove meat and animal products from our diets for moral and ethical reasons, in more remote places around the globe, meat is simply one of the only viable means for survival.
No bees means no feed for cattle and sheep, which means no herds to rear for food which would be detrimental to the survival of humans in these areas.
Bees being so integral to humankind is one of the reasons why many may say eating honey is not ethical.
Bees produce honey as a source of nutrition and fuel and this is what they live off. The industrial process of farming honey poses a threat to the overall health, as beekeepers change out honey for a sugar-based substitute when harvesting.
This sugar substitute deprives the bees of the nutrient-rich honey they need to survive as honey is perfectly suited to bees’ health needs, in turn making the bee colonies weaker over time.
Like industrial farming practices of all animals, the honey industry does not look to serve the bees – only to widen profit margins, generate a higher yield of product and sell more honey.
Many hives are culled once they are deemed no longer productive enough, needlessly killing thousands of the tiny creatures so integral to our global ecosystem.
As a result of the urbanisation of land, growing demand for cheaper honey products and needless culling of hives, there are now 35 species of bees in the UK alone that are facing extinction. A truly worrying fact for us to consider.
What Products Include Honey that you Should Avoid?
Regardless of whether or not you are vegan, vegetarian or just trying to make more compassionate dietary choices, there are many places where you should look out for honey and beeswax.
Whilst most alcohol is considered vegan, especially spirits, some brands use honey as flavourings or within the alcohol production process. Make sure to avoid ‘honey flavoured drinks at the bar.
Skincare and Makeup
Another industry that slips in honey, often as a marketing ploy, is the beauty and cosmetics industry, where honey is included in face creams, moisturisers and lip balms.
Vegan beauty ranges are popping up constantly, so switching products if your favourite does contain honey should be a very easy switch.
Beeswax is an old-school ingredient in some cleaning products such as polishes and household sprays. This is an easy one to avoid, but it’s definitely worth checking out the huge variety of eco-friendly cleaning products you can find in supermarkets!
Sauces and Salad Dressings
A trickier one to watch for, honey may be a key component in some of your favourite salad dressings, sauces and snacks. Honey and mustard is a classic combination, but honey may feature less-obviously in other store-bought items.
Always read the labels on the back.
Can You Buy Ethical Honey?
If you cannot bear the thought of going without honey, one idea is to look into finding a small, organic, local beekeeper from who you can buy honey directly. Whilst some larger producers claim to only take surplus honey that the bees themselves won’t consume, it is difficult to trust this info.
Instead, look to find a local, ethical supplier who will be sure to only harvest that surplus honey to sell. You’ll also be supporting independent farmers at the same time! Win-win!
What Can You Do to Help Save the Bees?
Outside of not buying honey, it’s super important to all do our bit to conserve the miracle creatures to ensure our ecosystem doesn’t collapse.
A really small but powerful thing is to plant flowers at home and help provide more flowering plants for bees to happily pollinate. If you don’t have a large garden, or if you live in a flat, window boxes are an amazing way to help our little, striped friends happy.