When you tell somebody you’re vegan and they ask you what it entails the honey aspect is usually what tips them over edge to thinking you’re ridiculous. “What harm can a bit of honey do? The bee’s give it to us for free!” is one of the most common arguments I hear. It’s not just between vegans and meat eaters either, I’ve seen many vegans arguing about honey online. So what’s the real answer?
Vegan Life Magazine have tried to tackle the controversial argument in their January/February issue by comparing the for and against arguments. As usual they have left it up to their readers to decide what to believe but I don’t think this is a difficult decision at all.
The yes camp use the argument that not eating honey is what gives vegans such a bad name. People think we’re pedantic and over the top. Why do we care about bees? It can’t have escaped your attention that bees are in dramatic decline all over the world. Colony collapse disorder is causing hives to literally become empty shells overnight and scientists are baffled as to why. It is thought that it could be pesticides which are killing off our bees or possibly the changes to their natural environment. What is certain is that the extinction of bees would be extremely dangerous to human kind with many of our foods disappearing with them as they are not being pollinated.
Honey is a natural food and can be harvested without harming the bees but unfortunately that usually isn’t the case. Bee’s create honey so that they have food to eat over the winter when pollen is hard to come by. If we take that honey we have to then feed them with an artificial alternative so that they can still feed. This is usually made with processed sugar, a very unnatural alternative. Honey is extremely nutritious which is one of the reasons we take it, can you imagine what happens to the bees that are fed this ridiculous alternative?
To keep up with the demand for honey beekeepers often add new layers to the hives so that the bees carry on reproducing and therefore produce more honey from their offspring. This is not natural and causes increased stress and often death. A bee would rather work itself to death than let it’s offspring die and yet the honey isn’t going anywhere near the young but being taken for humans to enjoy instead.
The vegan lifestyle is about caring for animals and not taking advantage of them for our own benefit. While people may argue that keeping bees is stopping them from becoming extinct, nothing could be further from the truth. Keeping these vulnerable insects in hives and stealing the food they would give to their children is not what I call care. Someone who exploits bees by eating their honey cannot call themselves a vegan.
This week David Cameron and his cabinet will be deciding whether to let banned pesticides be used on rapeseed fields across the country. It has previously been shown that these chemicals pose a major risk to our already struggling bees. Reintroducing the pesticides could have a devastating effect on the populations of honey bees which pollinate a third of the food we eat. This is just further proof that the Conservative party have more interest in helping wealthy companies than looking after their own people.
The company in question here is called Syngenta and is one of two companies in the UK which produce these deadly pesticides. Syngenta have asked for emergency exemption from the existing EU ban due to what they say is a lack of scientific evidence that neonicotinoids have any negative effects on bees. They argue that crops need to be protected from aphids and other insects and that there are no suitable alternatives to the pesticides they produce. Interestingly the scientists disagree with this analysis claiming that alternatives can be used. Considering that Syngenta makes billions each year from selling neonicotinoids, I’m more inclined to believe the scientists here.
David Cameron needs to look at the reason the ban was imposed in the first place. Last year the EU banned the use of neonicotinoids on flowering crops including rapeseed. These pesticides are used to treat the seeds directly rather than being sprayed on the top of crops. This means that every part of the plant is potentially dangerous and the nectar eaten by the bees is full of the chemicals. Studies have shown that ingesting the pesticides can cause high levels of mortality in populations of bees. It can also damage their ability to find their way back to the hive after feeding and can stop them from producing queens to survive the winter. As the pesticide has to be in the seed from the very beginning it also means that the pesticides are not used in response to pest numbers but are used constantly. There is therefore a constant danger. It is not just bees that are effected by these chemicals either. As they leach into the soil and water systems it has been found that they damage earthworms and creatures living in local rivers.
Of course Syngenta were not going down without a fight and there were claims that they had done their own studies on populations of bees outside the lab and found that the chemicals had no effect on bee colonies. The question I’d like to ask is if these studies have been completed, where are the reports? I personally would like to read and analyse the studies before being sure that they were accurate. Another objection they had was that the scientists were only looking at the worst case scenario. In this case the worst case scenario is so bad it doesn’t bear thinking about but again, a company like this only thinks with their bank accounts.
This month Obama instigated assessments into the effects of neonicotinoids on bees in the USA. It seems the rest of the world is beginning to wake up to the dangers of a life without bees and yet again David Cameron is taking us backwards. If you agree that these disgusting chemicals should not touch our crops then please sign this petition!
As a vegan I am proud to say that I do not eat honey or use products which contain beeswax. One of the questions I get asked all the time when I tell somebody about my lifestyle is why I don’t consume or use bee products and it surprises me how little is known about where these substances come from. Most people know about the factory farming of chickens for eggs and meat but did you know that bees are put through a similar experience so that beekeepers can obtain their natural sweetener?
The structure of a hive is a complex and interesting one. Each hive contains thousands of bees with a queen in the centre. Thousands of these are workers which carry out a number of duties, including collecting nectar and building honeycomb. Workers fly from flower to flower, collecting nectar and storing it in their stomachs where is mixed with saliva and other substances. Once back at the hive the nectar is regurgitated so that another bee can drink it and mix it with more secretions from their own stomach. This process is repeated multiple times before the honey is placed in the honeycomb and stored for the winter when they will be short of food. A single worker bee visits thousands of flowers a day but in its life will produce less than a teaspoon of honey. It is therefore a valuable commodity to populations of bees.
Beekeepers harvest the honey in their hives early in the autumn and replace it with sugar supplements for the bees to feed themselves on. This is the equivalent of removing fruit from a child’s diet and replacing it with sugary sweets. They may keep the child alive but it will definitely not be healthy! As a result, there is a higher death rate in manmade bee hives than in the natural alternatives. Viral infections spread by mites are rife in the hive and there is also a condition called “colony collapse disorder” which kills off entire colonies of bees for so far unknown reasons. Add to this the unnatural living conditions of the flat white boxes and it becomes a familiar factory farming environment.
Queen bees live for around seven years in a natural environment. When a new queen is provided by the workers, the current queen and a large number of the colony will “swarm”. They leave the hive and find somewhere new to nest. If this happened in a commercial hive it would cause a decrease in honey production and keepers therefore try their best to prevent it. They usually clip the wings of the queen to prevent her flying and will kill her every year, replacing her with a new queen. They will also add more wax cells to the hive to trick her into laying more eggs than she naturally would.
It is commonly known now that bees are becoming more and more rare. The number of native species have halved in Britain in the past 50 years and many more are close to becoming extinct. If bees disappeared then we would easily lose one third of our diet due to their importance in pollinating plants. It is more important than ever to conserve our current bee populations and do what we can to ensure their survival. The bees which are not kept for honey are threatened by pesticide use, loss of habitat and climate change but we can help populations increase by organically farming and planting wildflowers which bees are attracted to.
While bees are struggling as they are I consider honey to be a luxury which we can not afford to keep taking. As a vegan I will not eat or use any substance which has been created by bees as I object to the exploitation of animals. However I would urge everybody to consider reducing their use of honey or beeswax and helping these vulnerable creatures. Honey is relatively easy to omit from your diet with the use of other sweeteners such as maple syrup or agave and many cosmetic companies have also stopped using beeswax in their lip balms and make up. Are you willing to make a minor change to your life so these creatures can live?
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