Is Honey Vegan?

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If bees disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would only have four years left to live.
— Albert Einstein

A bee is an insect and an insect is an animal. Water, pollen, nectar, and honey are a bee’s main source of energy and provides essential nutrients during the winter months so they can survive, reproduce, and build their homes out of nests inside tree cavities and under edges of objects to hide from predators. There are thousands of species of bees that pollinate many different plants but there are only seven recognized species of honey bee who pollinate specific crops. 85% of plants exist because of bees and around 400 different types of plants need bees and other insects to pollinate them to increase their yields and quality.

 

HONEY IS MADE by BEES for BEES

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1/3 of our global food supply is pollenated by bees.”

As honey bees gather pollen and nectar for their survival, they also help us to pollinate food crops and more than 90% of wild plants. Without bees, crops such as almonds, apples, berries, squash, broccoli, cantaloupes, cucumbers and alfalfa would become extinct. While we don’t need bees to pollinate every single crop, here is just a brief list of some of the foods we would lose if all our bees continue to perish:

Apples, Mangos, Rambutan, Kiwi Fruit, Plums, Peaches, Nectarines, Guava, Rose Hips, Pomegranate, Pears, Black and Red Currants, Alfalfa, Okra, Strawberries, Onions, Cashews, Cactus, Prickly Pear, Apricots, Allspice, Avocados, Passion Fruit, Lima Beans, Kidney Beans, Adzuki Beans, Green Beans, Orchid Plants, Custard Apples, Cherries, Celery, Coffee, Walnut, Cotton, Lychee, Flax, Acerola – used in Vitamin C supplements, Macadamia Nuts, Sunflower Oil, Goa beans, Lemons, Buckwheat, Figs, Fennel, Limes, Quince, Carrots, Persimmons, Palm Oil, Loquat, Durian, Cucumber, Hazelnut, Cantaloupe, Tangelos, Coriander, Caraway, Chestnut, Watermelon, Star Apples, Coconut, Tangerines, Boysenberries, Starfruit, Brazil Nuts, Beets, Mustard Seed, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Brussels Sprouts, Bok Choy (Chinese Cabbage), Turnips, Peppers, Papaya, Safflower, Sesame, Eggplant, Raspberries, Elderberries, Blackberries, Clover, Tamarind, Cocoa, Black Eyed Peas, Vanilla, Cranberries, Tomatoes, and Grapes… Just to name a few!

Simply put, bees keep plants and crops alive. Without bees, humans would not have very much to eat, so we need to make sure bees are taken care of and protected in every possible way.

 

how honey is created

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“One bee produces 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey during its entire lifetime.”

Honey bees fly from their hive to collect pollen or propolis which is a resinous mixture collected from tree buds, sap flows, or other botanical sources used as a sealant for unwanted open spaces in the hives and nectar which is then used to make honey. Honey bees need to visit up to 1,500 flowers in order to collect enough nectar to fill up its honey stomach. Bees have two stomachs; one stomach for eating and the other stomach to store nectar collected from flowers or water so that they can carry it back to their hive. After returning to the hive, they regurgitate and pass the nectar back and forth many times to other bees who complete the process by chewing it up then storing in the honeycomb for safe keeping. While bees make excess amounts of honey, they store it for the winter months as a safety precaution just in case they’re unable to produce enough to feed the entire colony. The hive works together to provide each member with an adequate supply with each bee producing just a 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime. A group of 12 bees will produce only one teaspoon of honey between them their entire lives. Even though honey has “nutrients”, it is not intended for any other species besides bees.

 

Honey is the product of Hard work

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“Bees must consume eight ounces of honey for every ounce of wax they produce.”

Honeycombs are hexagonal cells (6 sides) of wax made by bees to store honey and eggs. Hexagons appear in honeycombs because they're the most efficient way to fill a space with the least amount of material. Some shapes tessellate, meaning they can be repeated across a surface without leaving gaps or overlapping. It can take about 7 days to 2 months for bees to build up their honeycomb based on the size. In about 7 days from the early build up and moving in, honeybees can add from 1 to 3 pounds of honeycomb inside the structure.

When the temperature is right, female worker bees secrete wax scales from special glands in their body, then chew the wax with a bit of honey and pollen to produce the beeswax. In order to make enough wax, worker bees need a lot of energy and must consume a lot of honey. Some studies estimate that bees must consume eight ounces of honey for every ounce of wax they produce.

 

HONEY TAKES A LOT OF WORK

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“To make one pound of honey, bees need to visit 2 million flowers and fly over 55,000 miles.”

Bees visit up to 5,000 flowers in just a single day. To make just 1 pound of honey, bees needs to visit 2 million flowers and fly over 55,000 miles which is farther than circumnavigating the globe twice and will be the lifetime work of approximately 768 bees. On average, each person in the U.S. consumes about 1.3 pounds of honey each year and there are well over 327 million people living in the U.S. which is a lot of honey to take from bees. Honey is nutrition for bees, not for humans.

 

bee keeping practices

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“Bees are a natural part of nature, they’re not commodities.”

Beekeeping is as an exploitative practice aimed to harvest the most amount of honey to make the most amount of money. The honey industry, like many other commercial industries, is profit driven where the welfare of the bees is often secondary to commercial gain. The following practices regularly occur in both commercial and hobbyist setups:

  • Shipping queens bees in the mail which can injure or kill them.

  • Use of antibiotics to bees which can contaminate honey and even harm humans.

  • Artificial insemination with carbon dioxide and decapitated bees.

  • Clipping the queens wings to prevent her and other bees from leaving the hive.

  • Swapping out honey with high fructose corn syrup so bees work harder to produce more honey.

  • Killing queen bees every three years and replacing them.

“Queen bees are anesthetized with carbon dioxide and injected with the semen of several bees by using a syringe.”

In the last few years, some breeders have begun to use artificial insemination to speed up the breeding process. In nature when bees mate, the male bee dies. While male bees die anyway during reproduction, the way they die when they’re used for artificial insemination is much crueler. The head of the male bee is squashed or pulled off, which causes the nervous system to create a sexual reaction. Queen bees are then anesthetized with carbon dioxide and injected with the semen of several decapitated bees by using a syringe. As you can probably imagine, this whole process is not pleasant for either the male or female bee and is forced instead of the natural process of nature.

“Beekeepers clip the wings of the queen to prevent her from flying away.”

In order to keep control over the bees, beekeepers use several unfriendly techniques like clipping the wings of the queen to prevent her from going anywhere. As bees won’t go anywhere without their queen, this also keeps the bees nearby. Normally, a new queen would be born and she’d take part of the population with her. To prevent the bees from dividing into various groups, beekeepers usually kill their queen every year or two and replace her with a new queen to prevent the bees from rearing a new queen themselves. Other beekeepers choose to clip off some of the queen’s legs, as this mutilation will prevent her to lay eggs properly and the other bees will rear a new queen to replace this severely disabled queen, therefore saving the beekeeper the effort of killing the queen and ordering a new one.

“When bee keepers remove honey from a hive to sell for human consumption, they replace it with a sugar substitute.”

When honey is taken from a bee’s hive, it’s then replaced with high fructose corn syrup which is significantly worse for the bees’ health since it lacks the vital essential micro nutrients, fats, and vitamins bees require to be healthy. Bees then work tirelessly to replace the missing honey, exhausting themselves in the process. This means that many bees won’t survive the winter because of exhaustion and lack of nutrition. Therefore, many commercial beekeepers just kill their bees at the end of the summer, as they know they’ll have to replace them with new bees the next year anyway. Furthermore, countless bees die even sooner, after stinging the farmer during the removal of the honey. This practice is also connected to the collapse of bee colonies which is the reason for the mass disappearance of bees in recent years.

“Beekeepers use smoke to calm bees when they are collecting honey or relocating a hive.”

Another cruel practice is using smoke to calm the bees and suppress their defense mechanisms when the beekeeper approaches the hive to take the honey or for some other reason. When noticing the smoke, bees think there’s a fire and automatically respond as they would if there were a real fire. They rush to fill their bodies with as much honey as they can, as they assume their hive will have to be abandoned any moment. This frantic stuffing with honey makes them slow and calm, almost lethargic and it prohibits them from seeing the beekeeper as a threat. Think about it. When your home is on fire, and you spot a burglar in your burning house, do you fight him or do you gather your family, grab the most important stuff from your house and run out of it? This is essentially what beekeepers are doing to bees when they use smoke.

In addition, bees release pheromones (chemicals) in the air to warn other bees in case of an emergency, which often results in the rest of the bees acting aggressively and defensively. Because of the smoke, the pheromones are masked so the bees won’t be as aggressive as they usually would, which stops them from stinging the beekeeper. Another problem with human interference with bees is that they can get overheated. When it’s quite warm outside, bees keep their beehive cool by bringing in water and by circulating the air with their wings in an efficient and cooling way. When the beehive is moved in the wrong way or when they feel threatened, it can become too hot in the beehive, causing bees to die. The risk of bee casualty and injury is very high, from human interference and from the bees natural defense instincts which make them lose their stingers.

 

UNSUSTAINABILITY

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“In 2012, 40% of bee species were close to extinction.”

Purchasing honey is not beneficial for the population of bees. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stated that the mass die off of bees are due to chemical pesticide poisoning through exposure to pesticides applied to crops or for in hive insect or mite control and stress bees experience due to management practices such as transportation to multiple locations across the country for providing pollination services. More about colony collapse disorder can be found here.

“Selectively breeding bees for honey narrows the gene pool and increases susceptibility to disease and large scale die-offs.“

Bee keeping isn’t good for the environment either as honey bees are specifically bred to increase productivity. This selective breeding narrows the population gene pool. Diseases with bees occur by importing different species of bees for use in hives then is spread to the thousands of other pollinators we and other animals rely on, disputing the common myth that honey production is good for our environment.

“A recent study revealed that 75% of all honey around the world contained traces of pesticides.”

Since food crops and plants are sprayed with pesticides, bees encounter these chemicals on a daily basis, even if the amount is not enough always enough to kill them. Another problem is that the world has become increasingly unsuitable for bees. The practice of monoculture in agriculture, fields with nothing but grass and gardens with barely any flowers mean that more and more areas become places where bees struggle to survive as they need to be able to find enough food within a few hundred meters from their hive. Wild bees have to compete with honeybees for food, so keeping honeybees for honey also contributes to the endangerment and extinction of wild bee species. The Earthwatch Institute concluded in the last debate of the Royal Geographical Society of London, that bees are the most important living being on the planet, however, scientists have also made an announcement: Bees have already entered into extinction risk.

 

SUPPOSED HEALTH BENEFITS

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“Raw honey contains botulism toxins and is not recommended for infants.”

Many claim that honey, bee pollen, and propolis have numerous health benefits but they forget that these are specific nutrients are intended for bees, not for humans. Not only does honey take a lot of work to create, but it is extremely unhealthy for humans, even more unhealthy than refined sugar and sugar alternatives. It has a negative impact on our blood sugar levels and can even destroy teeth. Since honey contains more complex sugars, it takes your body more time to break it down. Honey is not intended for humans.

“Honey produced from the flowers of certain plants can cause honey intoxication.”

The honey you find in the majority of supermarkets and grocery stores is not the same honey found in hives since the honey is heated and processed in a factory to prolong its shelf life. When honey is heated, it loses most of its vitamins and minerals. Even if you choose raw honey, it contains a poisonous toxins called pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Honey and other bee products are polluted by pesticides, heavy metals, bacteria and radioactive materials. Pesticide residues cause genetic mutations and cellular degradation and presence of antibiotics might increase resistant human or animal's pathogens. Many cases of infant botulisms have been attributed to contaminated honey. Honey may be very toxic when produced from certain plants. Ingestion of honey without knowing its source and safety might be problematic.

Below are the the top 3 supposed health claims of honey from Your Daily Vegan:

1. Honey soothes coughs

A 2007 study from Penn State College of Medicine of 139 children found that buckwheat honey outperformed the cough suppressant, dextromethorphan (DM) in calming nighttime coughs and improving their sleep.

In the same study,

“This study is somewhat limited by the fact that each child had a physician visit between the two nights of the study, which may provide some of the explanation for the improvement in all of the groups, including the no-treatment group.” (31)

2. Honey treats wounds

In numerous studies, honey has been found effective in treating wounds. In a study, 59 patients suffering from wounds and leg ulcers – of which 80 percent had failed to heal with conventional treatment – were treated with unprocessed honey. All but one of the cases showed remarkable improvement following topical application of honey. Wounds that were sterile at the outset, remained sterile until healed, while infected wounds and ulcers became sterile within one week of applying honey. (32)

However,

“Honey is noted to aid in wound healing because of its acidic pH level. And yes, there are some studies that show honey can have better results over conventional treatment – like a 2010 study looking at honey use with burn victims who had on average a 3-day faster healing time than those using silver sulphadiazine. Yet, we also know that aloe vera has wonderful healing properties. A study the same year as the honey/SSD study looked at the efficacy of aloe vera use with post hemorrhoidectomy patients. Those using aloe versus placebo had significant improvement with pain management and healing.” (33, 34)

3. Honey relieves allergies

Many people swear by honey’s ability to lessen symptoms of allergies, and some experts say that honey can contain traces of flower pollen, and exposure to small amounts of allergens works as good treatment to combat reactions. But honey’s efficacy for treating allergy hasn’t been proven in clinical studies. Just the opposite:

“The idea is that bees take up pollen and pass it on via honey, and then people consume the honey and the pollen and therefore build up an immunity to the pollen and have allergy relief. But, bees focus on the pollen from flowers – not those from trees & grass which are the main allergy offenders. There is a study from 2002 which focused on allergy sufferers receiving either local & raw honey, a nationally pasteurized honey, and a placebo. There were no significant differences in allergy relief between the three treatments. Now, there was a more recent study that has been used to show honey certainly works for allergies, specifically those caused by birch tree pollen. People consuming birch pollen honey had significantly better control of allergy symptoms than those taking conventional medications. Yet, this honey was not naturally rich in birch tree pollen but rather added to the honey. This makes me wonder if the results would be the same had the pollen been added to another medium which was ingested.” (35)

 

honey alternatives

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“Unlike bees, humans can survive and live healthfully without including honey in their diets.”

If you want to be sweeten your food or drink, there are plenty of sweet alternatives to honey such as:

  • Fruit and fruit juice

  • Bee Free Honee

  • Dates and date paste

  • Coconut nectar

  • Agave nectar

  • Maple syrup

  • Rice syrup

  • Molasses

  • Brown sugar

  • Soy or candulla wax (for candles)

 

10 ways you can help bees

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1. Avoid all bee products

Bee products include honey, royal jelly, propolis, and beeswax. As I explained above, pollen, nectar, and honey are food for bees. Royal jelly is food intended for the queen bee. A wide variety of health and beauty benefits have been attributed to royal jelly over the years yet, like bee pollen, but there is no medical evidence to prove it is therapeutic. Propolis is a resinous mixture collected by honey bees from tree buds, sap flows or other botanical sources, which is used as a sealant for unwanted open spaces in the hive. Although propolis is purported to have health benefits (as a cold and flu remedy), it can cause severe allergic reactions.

2. Do not use herbicides or pesticides

Pesticides and herbicides contain chemicals that are extremely harmful to bees and other beneficial insects which part of the main reason they are dying. Avoid spraying chemicals on your plants like Roundup, in which the main ingredient glyphosate, raises the cancer risk of those exposed to it by 41%, a new analysis says. Even a herbicide or pesticide that labels itself as "organic" could still be a hazardous to bees. Below are links to natural pest control and insecticides.

3. Shop responsibly: buy local, organic, and seasonal foods

Purchasing local, organic, foods in season helps to avoid monoculture crops which can create pesticide resistance. As much as you can, buy produce from a local farmer’s market, co-op, or a Community Supported Agriculture Farm. Supporting your local, sustainable growers helps our bees as well.

4. Let your lawn go wild

Weeds can be a good thing. Wildflowers, many of which some might classify as weeds like clover and dandelions, are not only some of the most critical food sources for native North American bees but to other native pollinators as well. Letting your landscape flower is better for the pollinators and your back. Think about letting a portion of your yard go back to its roots. Allow dandelions and clover to grow again (two of bees' favorite delicacies). Not only will you spend less time mowing your lawn, the bees will thank you for it.

5. Do not mow your lawn as often

Cutting your grass less often leads to more flowers and weeds, which appeal more to the bees, Research finds that only mowing your lawn every two weeks, instead of every week, increases bee populations by 30%.

6. Plant a bee friendly garden with native plants

Bees need people who love to garden! Plant an array of herbs and flowers that attract bees. Here are 21 flowers that can attract bees so they can enjoy your garden as much as you do.

7. Supply homes & water for bees

If you don’t have enough space for a garden, bees still need a place to get fresh, clean water. Fill a shallow container of water with pebbles or twigs for the bees to land on while drinking. Native bees like to burrow. Leaving a patch of the garden or area in the lawn uncultivated in a sunny area will encourage this behavior. Even if you just have a small balcony you can install a little water basin for the bees to drink during the warm day of summer. Put a few stones and floating cork on the water so bees won’t drown!

9. Help to protect swarms

Swarming is a natural process when colonies of honeybees can increase their numbers. If you see a swarm, contact the local authority or the police who will contact a local beekeeper who will collect the swarm and take it away. Honeybees in a swarm are usually very gentle and present very little danger. They can be made aggressive if disturbed or sprayed with water. Just leave them alone and wait for a competent beekeeper to arrive.

9. Join BEE-SAFE

Pledge to protect the bees on a piece of land you manage, your garden, the backyard of your company or your rooftop! We have partner towns, schools, corporations, and individuals. Everyone can join!

10. Bee informed and educate others

There are a lot of misconceptions going around about bees and how important they are to the world we live in. Bees are not dangerous and do not attack humans unless they are threatened. By learning about them and understanding them, we can learn how to both respect and protect them.

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In Summary:

  • Honey is bee food and takes a lot energy and time to create.

  • Bees are extremely smart. They can recognize human faces and communicate with each other with specific movements and dances.

  • Beekeeping practices are cruel, unsustainable, and threaten the lives of bees as well as our food supply.

  • Honey is not as healthy as we are told and honey produced from flowers of certain plants can cause honey intoxication and serious side effects.

  • There are plenty of alternatives we can use for food instead of honey.

Do bees deserve a life free from human obligation? What are your thoughts? Do you consume honey? If so, why? Comment below and let me know what you think.

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