Can Honey Comply with Vegan Ethical Principles?!
Can Honey Comply with Vegan Ethical Principles?!

Can real honey be produced in compliance with vegan ethical principles?

Although a lot fruits and vegetables are produced largely with the aid of the honeybees, the world’s most versatile pollinators, in vegan community beekeeping is sometimes characterized as

1. Exploiting and enslaving the honeybees and

2. Killing the bees in the process of stealing their honey.

So are beekeepers killing the bees?

With conventional commercial-style beekeeping in vertical beehives with their familiar multiple stacked up boxes, it is, indeed, very difficult to avoid squishing and crushing many bees every time the heavy top supers are replaced.

In contrast, beekeepers using horizontal hives have no heavy boxes to crush the bees with, as they only use light individual frames; each frame mimicking a single honeycomb from a feral beehive in a natural tree hollow.

In our horizontal beehives the tops of the frames touch covering the honeycombs underneath. So even when the top lid of the beehive is open, for example during inspections, the bees are much calmer than in conventional vertical hives because very little light or air gets through to disturb the bees. Calm, undisturbed bees do not get agitated and do not sting and die in the process.

So, Are beekeepers stealing honey from the bees?

It does, indeed, happen with conventional industrial-style beekeeping operations when honey production quotas are the ultimate goal, that the bees are sugar-fed and most of their honey stores are taken and exchanged for sugar – a practice that ultimately harms the bees health.

Here’s an NIH study showing that sugar-feeding adversely affects the bees’ health: Diet-dependent gene expression in honey bees: honey vs. sucrose or high fructose corn syrup.

In contrast, along with the thousands of other beekeeping enthusiasts who practice an old-style minimally invasive treatment-free, sugar-free beekeeping, at ForestBeehive apiary we never exchange any part of the bees’ honey stores for sugar.

For us the ultimate goal is to keep the bee colonies healthy and in a clean habitat, instead of achieving record-breaking harvests from overworked, over-stressed, sugar-fed bees.

We harvest only in late Fall and ONLY if the colony has way too much honey reserves, we will then take that surplus honey only.

If too much honey is left over for the winter it will actually diminish the bees’ chances to survive our cold Maine winters. According to Dr. Leo Sharashkin, a long-time natural beekeeper in Ozarks MO, in climates with cold winters, leaving too much honey over winter is actually as dangerous for the bees as not leaving enough. With too much honey left, the bees will have to spend extra resources to keep that surplus honey warm, the honeycombs may cool and condensation may form on them, leading to moisture problems”, mold growth, attracting moth, parasites, forcing the bees to abscond …and with growing environmental threats to bees’ habitats absconded bees are having ever diminishing chances of finding a new suitable home in a timely manner.

In other words, in climates with cold winters, if the beekeeper does not remove surplus honey before winter, the bees will have worse survival chances.

So if there’s a honey surplus that should not be left over winter, we remove it and either harvest it or give it back to the bees in early Spring in case emergency feeding is required e.g. due to a long spell of bad weather when no foraging is possible.

So Are Beekeepers enslaving the bees?

In conventional beekeeping, the methods for preventing the bees from swarming or absconding include clipping the queens’ wings, jailing the queens behind queen excluders, removing the queens’ cells and frequent killing and replacing the queens.

With natural, minimally invasive beekeeping at ForestBeehive apiary, we do none of that and our queens are naturally mated as opposed to artificially inseminated. As opposed to coastal Maine with its much milder winters, for Central Maine I have no personal or anecdotal evidence of any beekeeper here encountering a truly feral honeybee survivor swarm.

A swarm that settled in this smaller beehive was from our existing bee colonies but within a week these bees decided to leave. It’s unfortunate, because the ecological threats to bees’ habitats have intensified and, with the right beekeeping the survival odds for managed honeybee colonies are much higher.

Per Tomas Seeley, a world renowned Cornell University professor who spent decades studying honeybees in Arnot forest in New York state, 75% of feral swarms in nature do not survive. This percentage of non-surviving feral swarms could be closer to a 100 percent in Central Maine with its colder winters.

Honey is mostly a dehydrated nectar from flowers and it may well be considered vegan but only if it is produced without bringing any harm to those who created it.