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Is Honey Vegan and Cruelty-Free? The Hot Vegan Debate

By definition of veganism, honey is not vegan since it’s a product directly derived from bees. On the other hand, some people consider it vegan due to the safe practices of beekeeping.

From a general standpoint, honey is not vegan. Honey is made by honeybees, meaning it’s an animal product and not fit for consumption as per vegan standards. 

Surprisingly, despite honey being an overtly animal product, it raises one of those hot topics in the vegan world over its status. Some people on a plant-based lifestyle find it comfortable consuming honey and accuse those who don’t, labeling them ‘too rigid’ or ‘extreme’ in their decision.

Also, in support of honey acceptance in the vegan community, some arguments claim honey is a by-product of the pollination of crops. 

To know who’s right, in this article, we’ve dug deep into the matter, looking at both angles. So, let’s read on. But before that, let’s briefly discuss what honey is and how bees make it. 

What’s Honey?

Honey is a thick, dark golden, viscous food substance made by honeybees. It is the energy source for the bees, necessary for their survival.

Two honeybees harvesting nectar from a yellow flower.

How Bees Make Honey

Bees work hard to produce honey, with the honeybee visiting more than 1000 flowers collecting nectar in its separate stomach. In the stomach, enzymes break the nectar into a sweet liquid before the honeybee regurgitates it to the house bee for storage in the honeycomb as honey.

Even in the honeycomb, it’s still is not a finished product — a lot of work is involved, with the bees fanning the honeycomb to get rid of the extra water — an incredible job from some of the Earth’s little creatures.

Why Most Vegans Consider Honey Unethical

Often, generalization statements are vague. However, there are rare scenarios where generalizations hold water, and our case might be one of those. 

Going by the most basic standard, vegans avoid honey simply because it’s a honeybee’s product. If you’re wondering, the honeybee is an animal, falling in the most diverse and largest group; insects. 

But there are other reasons why most vegans avoid honey. 

Honey Harvesting May Kill Bees

Although not on a large scale like pesticides do, most honey harvesting methods ultimately result in the death of some bees. While this is often unintentional and unavoidable, it still amounts to cruelty towards some of the most vital insects in the ecosystem. That doesn’t get along well with most vegans. 

Honey Harvesting Shouts Immorality 

The little creatures work 70-80 hours a week. And all of a sudden, the fruits of their work are taken away by the farmer. To many vegans, it amounts to animal exploitation hence why they avoid honey. 

Worse yet, the venture of honey farming is potentially harmful to the health of the insects. 

How Honey Farming Risks Bees’ Health

Honey is bees’ food and provides them with essential micro-nutrients necessary for their health. Bees store it in honeycombs for use during winter. But when the farmers harvest it, they replace it with low-quality food, or rather supplements such as fructose corn syrup. These supplements are not the best alternatives to the bees’ food; they’re short of antioxidants, essential nutrients, and natural antibiotics as they’re artificial.

And not to mention, research links these artificial sweeteners to weakened immune systems in bees and genetic alterations, making them susceptible to pesticides. As you might have guessed, this is a threat to a beehive and must be playing a part in the current population decline of bees. 

What’s more, often, commercial beekeeping restricts the bees to raw materials from a single crop. That means the bees miss out on the nourishing diet they would otherwise enjoy if they got their pollen and nectar from the wild. 

And the exploitation of bees in search of honey doesn’t stop there. There are several unethical practices involved in honey harvesting, as outlined below, which give most vegans more reasons to shy off from its consumption. 

Unethical practices involved in bee farming

Most of these practices are more common in commercial bee farming, where the need for making profits sadly supersedes the welfare of the tiny insects. 

Killing the whole colony: Commercial beekeeping is a profit-driven industry. So to save costs, honey farmers resort to killing the entire colonies during the winter when there’s a decline in honey production. An utter disregard for the bees. In other cases, the beekeepers do this to stop the spread of diseases. 

Clipping the wings of queen bees: Often, the queen bee leaves the hive to start a new colony elsewhere. It’s some freedom it craves, but in the eyes of bee farmers, this means a decrease in productivity and profit. That’s why clipping the queen her wings is a common practice applied to boost sales. And on the same account, sometimes the queen is killed and replaced with a younger one. A tactic the beekeeper deems good but can’t apply to himself. Why? Because it shouts cruelty. 

Renting bees: To make more profits, some commercial beekeepers rent their bee colonies to farms for pollination. The bees can travel several days across the country on a very stressful journey. And worse, the farmers feed them the same nutritionless sugar water. 

To be objective, please see this great video on honey and veganism.

Why Some People Consider Honey Vegan-Friendly 

There are varieties of honey farming, more prevalent in local beekeeping more than in the commercial sector.

Balanced beekeeping: this is where the farmer only harvests the honey when it’s in abundance, say during the spring. During this season, the bee’s food is often in excess. So when farmers harvest, the act is perceived not to be stealing bees’ food.

Natural beekeeping: Here, the farmer doesn’t interfere with the hive, meaning the harvesting process is fair. 

Honey produced through such methods, on the surface, might generate second thoughts if you are against its consumption. It’s where vegans who find it fair to consume honey base their arguments. Such vegans claim that these farmers are ethical and biodynamic, hence kind to bees. 

And fair enough, beekeepers who employ those two methods might mean well for the bees as the income they earn is incomparable to profit-oriented commercial beekeeping. 

Should Vegans Welcome Honey? 

Let’s pull back the curtain a bit.

Eventually, it’s still business. So why would you trust that local farmer doing it for profit no matter its size? 

Secondly, even if the farmer leaves a bit of honey, how does one determine if it’s enough for the bees? 

In any case, even if you harvest honey, no matter what methods you’re using, you’re still exploiting bees by taking what rightly belongs to them without their permission. In this sense, honey joins the list of products vegans should avoid. 

If you’re already deeper into veganism, it may be easy to exclude honey from your lifestyle. 

But it’s understandably the opposite if you’re on a transition or contemplating a plant-based lifestyle. In such scenarios, consider supporting local farmers who might be producing their honey with the welfare of bees in the heart. 

If you can’t find local beekeepers, several brands and companies reportedly produce honey more sustainably, and you may give them the benefit of the doubt. They include;

  • Equal exchange: vegetarian company 
  • Essential Trading: another vegetarian company 
  • Littleover Apiaries
  • Really Raw 
  • Wainwrights 
  • Hilltop Honey
  • Traidcraft

Asda, Morrisons, Tesco, and Sainsbury’s are some of the companies you should keep off as they lack a ‘bee welfare policy,’ as investigated by ethicalconsumer.org.

Honey Vegan Alternatives

Honey is a top-notch food with a lot of health benefits that humans can enjoy. That’s said, it is still bee’s food, and we can very well survive without it, contrary to bees. 

But there’s no point to worry. There are a couple of plant-based alternatives to the sweetener you can find in a local grocery store. Don’t worry, as they’re just as sweet and healthy too.

1. Barley malt syrup. Unrefined sweetener extract from sprouted barley. It is usually golden in color, although you may find it as a dark brown sticky liquid

2. Brown rice syrup. It comes from brown rice and is sometimes called rice malt syrup. It’s a thick sugary liquid that is made by the activities of enzymes breaking down the starch found in cooked brown rice. 

3. Maple syrup. Culinary chefs laud its unique flavor. It’s a natural sweetener that comes from the sap of maple trees. It’s nutritious, with minerals and vitamins. It is also rich in antioxidants. It’s, however, rich in sugar, so you need to consume it in moderation. 

4. Bee Free Honee. This ‘vegan honey’ has a lot of positive reviews on Amazon. It comes from two organic fruits, apple and lemon, and cane sugar. As per the advertiser, it mimics bees’ honey with its taste and texture. 

5. Date paste/syrup. It is also known as date honey. It’s a naturally sweet caramel-colored syrup courtesy of the liquid that comes out of boiling chopped dates. It’s thinner than maple syrup, although rich in flavor.

Conclusion

By definition, honey is not vegan since it takes advantage of bees. But if some vegans consider it vegan, hopefully, the honey consumed is through ‘more’ ethical means.

And like many animal-based products, there are several natural alternatives to honey.


Frequently Asked Questions

Is honey mustard vegan?

No, honey mustard is not vegan because it usually contains naturally honey obtained from bees.

Is Honey Bunches of Oats vegan?

No, Honey Bunches of Oats contains honey obtained through bees. Therefore, it’s not vegan. It also has natural and artificial flavors from unknown sources which may or may not be vegan.

Is Honey Nut Cheerios vegan?

Honey Nut Cheerios is not vegan because it contains honey.

Do vegans use honey?

Most vegans don’t use honey because they consider it to be obtained unethically from bees.

Is organic honey vegan?

Organic honey is still honey obtained from bees, and therefore, is not vegan.

Is honey gluten and dairy-free?

Yes, natural honey is gluten and dairy-free.

Is natural honey flavor vegan?

Yes and no. It depends on the source or ingredients of the natural honey flavor.

Why do vegans not eat honey?

Vegans do not eat honey because it’s sometimes obtained unethically or cruelly from bees. In addition, by definition of veganism, vegans don’t consume honey or animal byproducts.

Is honey plant-based?

No, honey is not plant-based because it’s produced by the enzymes in a bee’s stomach. Though, the original nectar obtained from flowers is plant-based.

Is manuka honey vegan?

Manuka honey is not vegan. It’s a type of honey from New Zealand and still uses bees.

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