One of the most common questions I get regarding veganism is why honey isn’t considered a vegan product. This question is normally asked genuinely, not in the vein of ‘where do you get your protein from’ or ‘what about plants feelings’, and I understand why people ask it. It’s not immediately obvious to many why honey isn’t considered vegan.
I think the best place to start is with the Vegan Society’s definition of veganism:
“A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”
In the simplest form, honey is an animal product and therefore is not suitable for vegans. Regardless of whether it involves cruelty, taking any product an animal produces for themselves and using it for human consumption is exploitation, and that is enough to go against the Vegan Society’s definition of veganism. Honey is a winter food source for bees, created by bees for themselves, not for us.
But further to that, does honey production cause harm to animals, specifically to bees, or to the environment? The short answer is yes to both. As stated, honey is a food source for bees. As we take this food source for ourselves, it has to be replaced with something else. This is most commonly a sugar syrup, which will not contain the nutrients or antibacterial properties which naturally occur in honey. This leaves bees more susceptible to disease. As well as this, the Queen bee will often have their wings clipped. This is done to prevent the Queen bee from leaving the hive, and setting up a colony elsewhere. Both of these things are unarguably causing harm.
We often also hear of the decline in bee populations, and the damage this can have on the worlds ecosystem. However, it is not honeybees that are in decline, it is wild bees. The farming of honeybees can actually be detrimental for the survival of wild bees. A single bee will contribute to as little as a twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in their lifetime, so hives have to contain thousands of bees to make them profitable. Hives will often have as many as 60,000 – 80,000. That is a large number of honeybees competing with wild bees for resources. In a landscape with plentiful wildflowers, this won’t be a problem, but the reality is that many landscapes don’t have the resources to support both wild and honey bees. This can result in the decline of the wild population. Farming honey bees, therefore, in no way aids conservation.
My final argument for why honey can’t be considered a vegan product, is that the production of honey will often result in the death of entire hives of bees. Honey bees are often culled post harvest. This is because it is cheaper to kill the bees than to feed them over the winter months. After-all, we have already taken their winter food source for ourselves.
Honey is an incredibly easy food to replace. There are an abundance of natural sweeteners to choose from, such as maple syrup, agave syrup and date syrup. There are even vegan honey alternatives now. The one I have tried, and really like, is from Grace’s Vegan Kitchen, and I would definitely recommend you try it. The lemon curd is also particularly delicious
See some Vegan Society resources regarding honey below