With some vegans still choosing to eat local, raw honey and those following a plantbased diet consuming honey, we can understand why there's sometimes confusion whether honey is vegan. It's not, and here's why - plus a recipe for homemade vegan 'honey'!
Is honey vegan?
Most people know that vegans choose to avoid meat, dairy and eggs in their diet and lifestyle. But honey is one of the lesser known products that isn't vegan.
If you follow the definition of veganism by the Vegan Society, honey is clearly not vegan.
"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."Definition of Veganism - The Vegan Society
When I first went vegan, I wasn't really sure why honey isn't vegan. I even knew vegans that still chose to eat honey. Like many others I thought that honey was bee friendly and a way of helping our little pollinating friends. This is a common misconception.
European Honeybees Apis mellifera are intensively bred, and transported across the world to pollinate and produce honey. Well we can all agree that pollination is a good thing - in fact we have a pollinator to thank for every one in three mouthfuls that we eat! But is honey a good thing?
The environmental impact of honey
Honeybees are just one of the many creatures that pollinate crops. The intensive breeding of honeybees can lead to increased susceptibility to disease. According to the Vegan Society, "these diseases are then 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."
Cambridge University professor Dr Jonas Geldmann writes that Conserving honey bees does not help wildlife. He goes on to say that commercial honeybees compete with other wild pollinators and can have negative effects. “Levels of wild pollinators, such as species of solitary bumblebee, moth and hoverfly, continue to decline at an alarming rate. Currently, up to 50% of all European bee species are threatened with extinction,”
A common argument in favour of honey is often that the honeybees are necessary for crop pollination. However, honeybees are not nearly as efficient at pollinating as other wild bees. Wild bees simply don't produce as much honey, or profits...
"Although native bees are more effective pollinators, farmers continue to rely on factory-farmed honeybees for pollination so that the honey industry can take in more than 176 million pounds of honey every year, at a value of more than $215 million."PETA - The Honey Industry
The ethical issues of honey production
The honey industry also follows unethical practices, such as wing clipping of the queen bee, culling and burning hives in the winter. PETA says "Since “swarming” (the division of the hive upon the birth of a new queen) can cause a decline in honey production, beekeepers do what they can to prevent it, including clipping the wings of a new queen, killing and replacing an older queen after just one or two years, and confining a queen who is trying to begin a swarm."
Honey is not simply a by product of bees, it is what they make to sustain themselves through the winter. They take nectar from flowers, and combine it with an enzyme that they secrete, in order to make honey which they consume and store. When honey is harvested, beekeepers often replace their honey with a sugar substitute that is not nearly as nutritious for the bees as their carefully made honey. By taking honey away from bees we are exploiting them. Veganism seeks to avoid exploitation of animals, which is one of the reasons why vegans don't eat honey.
We don't need to eat honey, bees do.
How we can help the bees
As you can see, bee keeping is not very different from farming cows, pigs or sheep. So if we want to help the bees, it's clear that buying honey isn't the answer.
Here are five things you can do to help bees:
- Buy organic food grown without bee harming pesticides
- Plant wildflowers and let your lawn grow to create nectar sources
- Buy or make a bee house to provide shelter and nesting space for wild solitary bees
- Donate to conservation charities and help those working to protect habitats and change environmental policy to support nature
- Enjoy some vegan dandelion honey instead! Just leave some flowers for the bees 🙂
My parent's city garden is full of wildflowers and bees buzzing around - it's just so lovely! You really can make a difference to our pollinator friends.
Vegan Alternatives to Honey
Try these vegan honey substitutes instead:
- Agave Syrup
- Coconut Nectar
- Golden Syrup
- Black Treacle/Molasses
- Date Syrup
- Homemade Vegan Dandelion Honey
Thanks for reading - we hope we've answered the question about why honey isn't vegan. Now it's over to you... What are your feelings about honey? Did you know about the ethical issues and environmental impacts of it? Have you tried our dandelion honey yet - it's mega!
Sophie and Paul