Is Honey Vegan?

Honey is one of the most hotly debated topics among both vegans and non-vegans alike. Vegans avoid honey and bee products because they are made from the lives of bees. This makes sense. After all, vegans do not consume (to the extent that is possible and practical) animal products, and a bee is an animal. Others disagree and believe that avoiding minutia ingredients like honey can actually harm the vegan movement by appearing to rigid or difficult.

This is ridiculous and doesn’t give people enough credit. Worse, it’s faulty information and only ends up confusing people who are unfamiliar with what veganism is and means.

So, does the cultivation of honey and bee products really hurt animals and the environment? Are insects even animals? Are vegans just being extreme by avoiding honey? What is the big deal anyway? To answer these questions we must first take a look at who we obtain honey from, how it’s processed, and whether or not there are better choices available to us. 

Learn the honey basics- how a bee is actually an animal, how beekeeping is nothing more than another form of factory farming, and how our crops really get pollinated. I’ll answer the most frequently asked questions about vegans and honey, and I’ll even refute those so-called health benefits from using or consuming honey products. I’ve even put together a guide on alternatives to help you make the transition.

This is a complete and practical guide to finally put an end to the question, “Is honey vegan?”

Are you serious? Are you really trying to say we should care about insects? That makes vegans look extreme.

Some well-intentioned people overlook the use of honey because of the widely spread myth that honey and bee products are an all-natural by-products of the necessary pollination of our own food crops. To make matters more confusing, some well-known vegan bloggers and vegan organizations have explicitly stated that avoiding honey is only something that extreme vegans do in hope of attaining vegan perfection. Whatever that means.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is, consuming honey is not only detrimental to bees, it’s detrimental to the environment, and has dangerous consequences to our own food supply.

And honey is tested on animals such as cats and dogs, among others.

The thing to understand is that veganism is an ethical philosophy which begins with the idea that we should not use animals in any way and avoid, to the extent that is possible and practical, all forms of use. So sure, it may seem extreme to avoid products made from insects- after all, insects are less aesthetically appealing than say, a puppy. But offering respect to the littlest members of our world seems logical when thinking about caring for those who are perceived inconsequential or weaker than ourselves. We can avoid honey and bee products for our own survival, so we should.

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, and no. The first thing you should know about honeybees is that they are not native to North America. Honeybees actually derived from an ancient lineage of cavity-nesting bees that arrived from Asia around 300,000 years ago and rapidly spread across Europe and Africa. (1) They arrived in North America sometime in the 1600s. So, how did food crops get pollinated prior to the arrival of honeybees? From the keystone pollinators. Keystone pollinators are pollinators who are essential to the survival of an ecosystem. In North America, the indigenous pollinators are birds, butterflies, insects, and native wild bees among others. There is a significant negative impact on keystone pollinator populations from honeybees through crowding and stealing of pollen and nectar that would otherwise be available to them.

Wild pollinators are in decline across many parts of the world. To combat this, managed honey bees and bumblebees are frequently shipped into this country to provide valuable pollination services to crops. But doing this actually poses dangerous risks to wild bees. An entomologist at the University of California led a research team that has examined the evidence by analyzing the large body of research done in this area to come to the conclusion that managed bees are spreading diseases to wild bees.

“Even in cases when the managed bees do not have a disease, they still stress local wild bees, making them more susceptible to disease,” says Peter Graystock, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Entomology and the lead author of the study. (2)

Many countries have inadequate – or no – laws for bee movements.  The globalized trade in bees has enabled almost-free movement of diseases around the world. And even if these problems can be controlled in managed bee colonies, like other resistant organisms, mites (varroa mites specifically) quickly develop a resistance to the pesticides used to control them. The varroa mite is commonly thought to be a large contributor to colony collapse, as are insecticides and monoculture crops.

Another important environmental factor to consider: most countries import honey. Some estimate that approximately 42% of US honey has been imported from Argentina, China, Mexico, Canada, and India. About 85% of honey in the UK comes from Vietnam, China, Mexico, Australia, and Argentina. Germany, the world’s largest importer of honey, gets theirs from Argentina, China, and Mexico. And this doesn’t even take into consideration the impact on the environment from transporting managed colonies back and forth across the country pollinating crops. (3)

So, managed honeybees do pollinate crops but are not actually helpful to the environment because they crowd out and bring disease to indigenous keystone pollinators. They also use precious resources in not only the transportation of the finished products, but the transportation of managed bee colonies as well.

Even if honey were the healthiest food on the planet, there is still no reason for a vegan to consume it. Honey, as a food, falls into the “use sparingly” category on anyone’s food pyramid. In basic terms, honey is just sugar- no complex carbohydrates or amino acids and virtually no nutritional value. According to the National Honey Board, honey does contain “small amounts of vitamins and minerals, including niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.” However, heating and filtering honey is a destructive process. While it does not completely eliminate all enzymes, it does reduce the amount of enzymes left after processing. Regardless, while good nutrition is important, it does not play a role in veganism as an ethical philosophy. After all, how many times have we been told that eating animals is vital to good health? Hundreds? Thousands? Plenty.

Related Reading: Health Benefits & Honey

If you wanted free range, local, and organic honey, you would have to go into the woods and find a hive from native bees. Good luck with that, native bee colonies are very hard to find. If you do find one, attempting to remove (steal) the honey from the hive would destroy it as hives are delicate and intricate and not sized for human hands. Oh, and you’d get stung because bees don’t willingly give up the food that they work very hard for and need to survive.
No. Bees are accidental pollinators, the only thing they care about is collecting pollen and nectar for their young. As bees move about collecting pollen and nectar, pollen sticks to their hairy bodies, which then is rubbed off onto other flowers, and eventually making it the pistol of the plant, where seed-production gets started. The pollination is quite by accident and the bee does nothing to make it happen. So, since pollination occurs as a result of the natural behavior of bees, no there are no ethical implications towards eating food pollinated by bees- as a concept.

Today’s industrial pollinators spend much of their lives in the back of 18-wheelers, subsisting on high-fructose corn syrup, while being shlepped back and forth across the country to pollinate acres upon acres of monoculture crops. This raises ethical questions for vegans, as well as non-vegans, to consider. All animals rely on plants for survival- directly or indirectly, and our food supply is dependent upon the pollination of our crops. The first step to addressing this concern is to eliminate the consumption of honey and bee products, thereby reducing the number of managed bee colonies in existence. The next step needs to be addressing the acres and acres of monoculture crops, which could be done by moving towards a plant-based diet. This would eliminate the need to grow millions of pounds of corn and soy to feed to animals, thereby allowing farmers to grow more diverse crops which keystone pollinators could then pollinate. Obviously this is a monumental task and won’t happen overnight. But eliminating honey and bee products from the equation is the first, important step.

Related Reading: How to Help Bees

You’d be surprised how often this comes up when discussing honey and veganism. Someone who eats honey but avoids eggs is making the assumption that the pain, suffering, and human dominance experienced by a bee counts less than the pain experienced by a chicken. In reality, the only difference is the size of the animal.

The thing to remember is that veganism is an ethical philosophy. It begins with the idea that humans do not have the right to use animals in any way and that our use of animals is unnecessary and exploitative. This ethical stance means we should avoid, to the extent that is practical and possible, all forms of exploitation and human dominance.

Listen, if you ask a large group of people about whether or not we should consume honey or bee products, you’ll receive a variety of answers. You’ll hear that some vegans avoid honey, while others do not. This is not true. A vegan will avoid honey because it’s made from the lives of bees and no different than meat or dairy products. You’ll likely see articles stating that people who avoid honey make the entire vegan concept unworkable or unfeasible for most people.

Don’t listen.

Honey isn’t some magical ingredient no one can avoid. It’s an animal product that has been mass marketed and mass manufactured for generations- and it’s tested on animals. With so many vegan alternatives available, honey is not only exploitative, it’s unnecessary.

Related Reading: Vegan Purity & Perfection

Are Insects Animals?

If you were to ask, most people would be able to tell you that a dog is an animal- no debate about it. But should you ask the same people if a bee is an animal, you’ll hear a variety of answers- a lot of them incorrect. A bee is an insect. So, are insects animals? Yes, absolutely.

Bees are flying insects closely related to wasps and ants. There are nearly 20,000 known species of bees and can be found on every continent except Antartica. Insects are a class of invertebrates within the arthropod phylum that have a chitinous exoskeleton or outer covering, a three-part body (head, thorax, and abdomen), three pairs of jointed legs, compound eyes, and one pair of antennae.

Insects are among the most diverse group of animals on the planet, including more than a million described species, and represent more than half of all known living organisms. The number of extant species (living species) is estimated at between six and ten million, and potentially represents over 90% of the differing animal life forms on Earth. (4)

Insects have an amazing, vital role in our ecosystem which include many roles such as soil turning and aeration, dung burial, pest control, wildlife nutrition, and pollination. For example, beetles are scavengers who feed on dead animals, fallen trees, and other decaying matter. By doing so they actually recycle biological materials, which creates the rich topsoil our own crops need to thrive. Insects, like butterflies for instance, are also food for larger animals. Not only that, some insects feed on other insects who are damaging to crops. Ladybugs feed on aphids, for example. And of course, insects such as wasps, bees, butterflies, and ants are pollinators of flowering plants.

As an aside, birds are perhaps the most visible predator of insects but they aren’t the only one. Ants and even insects themselves account for the vast majority of insect consumption. Without predators to keep these populations in check, insects could undergo an almost unstoppable population explosion.

So, to recap: Insects are animals- vital, important animals.

“The plight of the bees illustrates our outsized influence on the this planet as we reshape it—consciously and not—to meet our immediate needs. But just because we have this power doesn’t mean we fully understand it, or our impact on our own world. We are a species that increasingly has omnipotence without omniscience. That’s a dangerous combination for the animals and plants that share this planet with us.  And eventually, it will be dangerous for us, too.” – Bryan Walsh (5)

The Bee Industry

Beekeeping often tends to be overlooked as an exploitative industry because most people have little idea that bees are part of the animal husbandry industry. Sure, they’ve seen honey in plastic bear bottles sitting on their grocer’s shelves, and they might even know that bees make honey- but very few people will be able to tell you few things about how bees are used in today’s commercial farming environment. As non-cute* members of the animal kingdom, bees don’t have the same protection and conservation as say, a panda bear might.

* I’m not saying that bees aren’t cute per se. What I am saying is that insects, generally speaking, aren’t considered cute (and cuddly) and that cute animals tend to fare better in our human world where physical beauty is not only desired, it is abundantly rewarded. Humans domesticated cats and not cockroaches, for example.

How Is Honey Made?

Honey bees fly from their hive to collect pollen, propolis- 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. It is the nectar that is used to make honey. Nectar is extracted from flowers using a bee’s long, tube-shaped tongue and stored in its “honey stomach”, or crop. Bees have two stomachs, the crop and their regular stomach. When the crop is full, it weighs almost as much as the bee does.

During the flight back to the hive, bees secrete enzymes in the crop that transform the chemical composition and pH of the nectar, making it more suitable for long-term storage. Once the forager bee returns to the hive, she will regurgitate the contents of the honey stomach (called trophallaxis) and pass it on to a house bee. The house bee will then process the nectar internally by chewing the nectar, adding more enzymes to break the complex sugars in the nectar into simple sugars. Then the nectar is deposited it into the beeswax cells.

Initially the nectar collected and stored still contains a high water content. The bees will begin to dehumidify the nectar by fanning it with their wings.This process removes most of the moisture from the nectar, making a thick syrup- the honey. Once this process is complete the bees seal off the cell with a plug of wax.

Bees store pollen and honey during the active summer period. This cache of food stored in the honeycombs is slowly consumed during times when the hive cannot forage for flower blossoms, such as in winter months. The honey can be stored in the capped cells almost indefinitely and can feed around 20,000 workers plus the queen bee. In one year, a colony of bees eats between 120 and 200 pounds of honey. (6)

A bee will only produce around 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in their lifetime.

To make one pound of honey it takes bees visiting 2 million flowers.

Commercial Bee Farms & Managed Bee Colonies

Commercial beekeeping is similar to factory farming on many levels.

  • Antibiotics. Conventional commercial beekeepers will regularly administer antibiotics whether their bees are sick or not. The use of antibiotics has been proven to contribute to immune system deficiencies and promote the development of antibiotic resistant super-pests and diseases. (7) Large scale beekeepers use fumigants and pesticides which, not surprisingly, can have negative side effects on the health of bees. Hives are treated in winter, when they are already stressed to prevent toxins from entering the honey supply, although the wax comb has been shown to carry traces of these chemicals. (8)
  • Artificial Insemination. Much like every other industry that commodifies animals, queen bees are artificially inseminated with syringes. Artificial insemination is used to breed animals with qualities that are advantageous to humans- to be more docile, change the color of the queen, or increase honey production. (9)
  • Manipulation & Interference. Over a hundred years ago beekeepers increased the cell size of the wax foundation installed in beehives by nearly half a millimeter. The increase was from the natural brood cell size (of the European honey bee) of 4.9mm to the manipulated cell size of 5.4mm. The thought was, the bigger cell size would produce bigger bees. It did and those bigger bees are still around today. (10)
  • Loss of Life. During honey harvesting and collection, even the kindest and most gentle beekeeper will unintentionally injure, crush, or kill some bees. It is unavoidable.
  • False Advertising & Fraud. You may not be eating what you think you’re eating: mislabeling is rampant in the worldwide honey industry. (11) A study done by Food Safety News found that 3/4 of the 60 jars of honey tested were found to be counterfeit and contained no bee pollen. (12)

Commercial bees are forced to construct their honeycombs in racks of removable trays, according to a standardized size rather than in the organic nature they normally would. The frames are designed to prevent the bees from building walls of the hive, allowing a beekeeper to move frames with ease. Queen bees are imprisoned in certain parts of the hive, while colonies are divided to increase honey production and sprinkled with prophylactic antibiotics. It is a common practice to pull or clip the wings of the queen so that she cannot leave the hive when swarming, which is a natural dividing of the hive that occurs in spring. Beekeepers have been selectively breeding honey bees for characteristics such as gentleness and productivity for generations. This in-breeding erodes genetic diversity and can lead to genetic deficiencies.

Much like every other industry that commodifies animals, the queen bee is artificially inseminated. During a naturally mated queen bee’s mating flight, she leaves the hive and mates with anywhere from one to forty drones (male bees). These drones provide enough sperm for the queen to use for the rest of her life. Artificial insemination is not only incredibly violating to the female, it’s a violent death sentence for the drones involved- beekeepers will crush the drones inverting their bodies, making it easier to obtain the sperm.

Collecting the honey requires the beekeepers to pump the hive full of smoke. The smoke sends a message to the hive that there is a forest fire. Their natural instinct is to prepare to evacuate from the forest fire with as much food as they can so they go to the nearest honey-storage cell and gorge on honey. This makes the bees non-aggressive, since defending the hive is less important than saving as much food as possible.

Bees produce honey as a food source for the hive during winter months. In commercial hives the honey is removed once it’s been capped by the worker bees, leaving the hive without the winter stores it needs.

 Langstroth bee hive

The Langstroth bee hive, patented in 1852, is the standard beehive used in many parts of the world for beekeeping.

To solve this problem, the standard industry practice is to feed bees high fructose corn syrup as a replacement for the honey. A team of entomologists from the University of Illinois found a possible link between feeding high fructose corn syrup and the collapse of the honeybee colonies around the world saying, “The widespread apicultural use of honey substitutes, including high-fructose corn syrup, may thus compromise the ability of honey bees to cope with pesticides and pathogens and contribute to colony losses.” Researchers say that their findings indicate that eating replacement food instead of honey prevents the bees from being exposed to other chemicals that help the bees fight off toxins, like those found in pesticides. (13)

In the US, 10 to 20 percent of bee colonies are lost over the winter- partly due to beekeepers killing off their hives using cyanide gas before winter. Some beekeepers will burn the beehives, killing all the bees inside. This seemingly counter productive and cruel act is done for financial considerations; killing the bees is cheaper than housing, feeding and providing disease prevention over the winter. (14, 15)

Colony Collapse Disorder

Colony Collapse Disorder is the phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind a queen, plenty of food and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees and the queen bee. (16)

While a definitive cause of Colony Collapse Disorder has not been identified, prevailing opinions suggest the linkage of Colony Collapse Disorder to multifactorial causes including:

  • Invasive varroa mite infestation
  • New or emerging diseases such as Israeli Acute Paralysis virus and the gut parasite Nosema
  • Pesticide poisoning through exposure to pesticides applied to crops or for in-hive insect or mite control
  • Stress bees experience due to beekeeping practices such as transportation to multiple locations across the country for providing pollination services
  • Changes to the habitat where bees forage
  • Inadequate forage/poor nutrition
  • Potential immune-suppressing stress on bees caused by one or a combination of stressors identified above

Research from the Harvard School of Public Health indicates that a certain class of insecticides seem to be to blame- the neonicotinoid class of pesticides made from nicotine and widely used on corn, soybeans, cotton, sorghum, sugar beets, apples, cherries, peaches, oranges, berries, leafy greens, tomatoes, and potatoes. They are even commonly found in yard and landscaping products. (17)

Neonicotinoids are currently banned in the European Union. Efforts to initiate a similar ban in the United States are also underway but the EPA claims they do not have enough evidence to take the chemicals off the market.

“Neonicotinoids are highly likely to be responsible for triggering Colony Collapse Disorder in honey bee hives that were healthy prior to the arrival of winter. Future research could help elucidate the biological mechanism that is responsible for linking sub-lethal neonicotinoid exposures to Colony Collapse Disorder” – Chensheng Lu, Harvard (18)

Pollinators for Hire

Did you know that honey and bee products account for only a small percentage of the total bee economy in the United States? The largest percentage of the bee economy comes from the rental of managed bee colonies to farmers to pollinate fruit and vegetable crops. Commercial hives are used in the pollination of roughly 100 different flowering plants including almonds, avocados, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cherries, berries, cucumbers, lettuce, peaches, pears, plums- even clover and alfalfa crops that are fed to cows on factory farms, just to name a few. (19)

What happened to our indigenous pollinators? Let’s take a closer look.

Honeybees are not native to North America. Honeybees actually derived from an ancient lineage of cavity-nesting bees that arrived from Asia around 300,000 years ago and rapidly spread across Europe and Africa. (20) They arrived in North America sometime in the 1600s. So, how did food crops get pollinated prior to the arrival of honeybees? From the keystone pollinators. Keystone pollinators are pollinators who are essential to the survival of an ecosystem. In North America, indigenous pollinators are birds, butterflies, insects, and native wild bees among others. There is a significant negative impact on keystone pollinator populations from honeybees through crowding and stealing of pollen and nectar that would otherwise be available to them.

Wild pollinators are in decline across many parts of the world. To combat this, managed honey bees and bumblebees are frequently shipped into this country to provide valuable pollination services to crops. But doing this actually poses dangerous risks to wild bees. An entomologist at the University of California led a research team that has examined the evidence by analyzing the large body of research done in this area to come to the conclusion that managed bees are spreading diseases to wild bees.

“Even in cases when the managed bees do not have a disease, they still stress local wild bees, making them more susceptible to disease.” – Peter Graystock, Department of Entomology (21)

Many countries have inadequate – or no – laws for bee movements.  The globalized trade in bees has enabled almost-free movement of diseases around the world. And even if these problems can be controlled in managed bee colonies, like other resistant organisms, mites (varroa mites specifically) quickly develop a resistance to the pesticides used to control them. The varroa mite is commonly thought to be a large contributor to colony collapse, as are insecticides and monoculture crops.

Today’s industrial pollinators spend much of their lives in the back of 18-wheelers, subsisting on high-fructose corn syrup, while being shlepped back and forth across the country to pollinate acres upon acres of monoculture crops. (22) This raises ethical questions for both vegans and non-vegans. All animals rely on plants for survival- directly or indirectly and our own food supply is dependent upon the pollination of our crops.

Changing our world to benefit wild pollinators is part of the solution. Eliminating the demand for honey and bee products is the first step to take. This would eliminate hundreds of thousands of bees being bred and managed to produce honey and it’s by-products, thus eliminating the transmission of disease, and allowing keystone pollinators to return to areas where managed populations have taken control.

Honey is Tested on Animals

One little known fact about honey is that it is routinely used in animal testing. That’s right, animals are dying to determine the effects honey has on human health. These tests are typically performed on animals such as mice, rats, and rabbits but have also been known to include cattle, sheep, goats, horses, donkeys, and even feral cats and dogs. These tests include: surgically wounding animals to determine the effects honey has on wound healing, dissecting animals to determine the effects of honey on bone mass and metabolism, as well as removing reproductive organs to determine how honey effects hormonal profiles- which is the animal model for menopause. (23, 24, 25, 26)

Related Reading: If You Eat Honey, Read This

Of all the important factors to consider when examining honey and bee products, these animal tests are the most heinous, the most egregious, and definitely the most offensive. If there were only one reason to give up honey for good, it should absolutely be this extremely important one.

Health Benefits & Honey

With its bonanza of purported healing properties, honey and bee products have been used for millennia as a medicinal remedy for a plethora of ailments. The ancient Egyptians used honey, as did the Greeks, Romans, and a number of other cultures. What I’m saying is that honey has history.

Veritably, when examined, honey does contain an unusual chemical makeup. It is low in moisture and extremely acidic, an environment that bacteria and microorganisms can not grow in but which keeps honey from spoiling almost indefinitely. Bees add an enzyme, glucose oxidase, to honey that creates hydrogen peroxide as a by-product. And to be fair, there have been animal studies done on the efficacy of honey and bee products used for medicinal purposes that have had some success.

But even if honey were the healthiest food on the planet, there is still no reason for a vegan to consume it. Honey, as a food, falls in to the “use sparingly” category on a traditional food pyramid. In basic terms, it is just sugar- no complex carbohydrates or amino acids and virtually no nutritional value. According to the National Honey Board, honey contains “small amounts of vitamins and minerals, including niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.” (27) However, heating and filtering honey is a destructive process- while it does not completely eliminate all enzymes, it does greatly reduce the amount of enzymes left after processing.

Regardless, while nutrition is important to our overall health, it has no role in veganism as an ethical philosophy. After all, how many times have we been told that eating animals is important to good health? Hundreds? Thousands? Plenty.

Let’s look at some of honey’s best-known and popular purported health benefits; whether confirmed by science or passed down through folk traditions or mothers who heard it from their mother’s mother.

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.

Yet, in the exact same study,

“This study is somewhat limited by the fact that each child had a physician visit between the 2 nights of the study, which may provide some of the explanation for the improvement in all of the groups, including the no-treatment group.” (28)

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. (29)

Yet,

“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 (SSD). 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 posthemorroidectomy patients. Those using aloe versus placebo had significant improvement with pain management and healing.” (30, 31)

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.

“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.” (32)

Bee-derived Foods

Honey isn’t the only bee-derived food that has purported health claims, here are the three most common foods and their alleged benefits.

Bee Pollen

Bee pollen products have a long laundry list of purported health benefits, but these claims are without strong scientific evidence of efficacy.

“Pollen is the ideal well-balance food for bees, but like any other material, is not a ‘perfect food’ for humans and statements or claims implying that pollen is such are not only highly unscientific, but are also unprofessional and potentially damaging to the reputation of the bee industry.” Pollen is more nutritious than some foods when eaten in comparable quantities- a pound of pollen anyone?” (33)

“Bee pollen products are a classic example of the current fallacies of the supplement industry. The claims made for such products are full of hype but are completely unsubstantiated by rigorous scientific evidence. What little evidence we do have shows that it is ineffective. What passes for “scientific” evidence on promotional websites are ancient tales and anecdotes.” (34)

“It’s true that bees collect pollen from plants, and honey has pollens in it from the local area. But, the wind-carried pollens from trees, grasses, and weeds that cause seasonal allergies are very light and stay airborne for a long time. The pollen in bee honey comes from flowers, and is very heavy and falls to the ground. They are the wrong kind of pollens for causing seasonal allergies.” – Dr. John Costa, Brigham and Women’s Hospital Allergy and Clinical Immunology Practice (35)

Royal Jelly

Royal jelly is the food meant 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, there are no medical studies that have definitively demonstrated therapeutic effects for royal jelly.

“Royal jelly, which is secreted from the salivary glands of worker bees, serves as food for all young larvae and as the only food for larvae that will develop into queen bees. Like bee pollen, it has been falsely claimed to be especially nutritious, to provide buoyant energy, and to have therapeutic properties.” – Stephen Barrett M.D. (36)

Propolis

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 (it is marketed as a cold and flu remedy), it may cause severe allergic reactions. Propolis is also used in wood finishes, and gives a Stradivarius violin its unique red color. (37)

WARNING: Do Not Feed Honey to Infants Under 1 Year Old!

Infant botulism is a rare but very serious disease affecting the nervous system of infants. Honey may contain bacterial spores from Clostridium botulinum that could cause infant botulism. Infants born prematurely and under 1 year of age are at highest risk because their underdeveloped digestive systems may not produce enough acid to destroy bacterial spores. (38)

Perfection & Personal Purity

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” – Voltaire

Perfection and purity. Of all of the stereotypes that vegans face, this one might be the most irritating. According to some, those who remain steadfast in their vegan convictions are putting personal purity ahead of being an effective advocate. These are the people who like to say that every action harms some animals, so worrying about minutia animal ingredients in food is actually anti-vegan because it could potentially scare away a non-vegan from attempting to live vegan.

This is ridiculous and doesn’t give people enough credit. Worse, it’s faulty information and only ends up confusing people who are unfamiliar with what veganism really is. People get discouraged when they find out they are being misled, not when they learn how to live vegan. Telling people that vegans shouldn’t worry about consuming animal products is incredibly misleading. There are so many animal products that we can’t avoid such as medications, building materials in homes, cars, or laptops, for example. Our world is a largely non-vegan one, the very least vegans can do is avoid every animal product that is possible to avoid. Honey and bee products are solidly on this list.

Veganism is not about perfection or purity. No one alive is perfect, vegans included. Having a definition for the largest social justice movement since the abolition of slavery has nothing whatsoever to do with perfection. It has everything to do with advocating with a clear and consistent message. Does this mean that you’ll never fail, that you’ll never make mistakes in your veganism? Absolutely not. You will, I will- we all will. We’re fallible. We are human.

Don’t let this discourage you. Failure isn’t an end, but a part of the process of life. You are going to read articles that talk about how you should never make veganism look difficult by asking if there are animal ingredients in your food at restaurants, or how you shouldn’t hurt the feelings of well-intentioned people by declining a non-vegan food at a family gathering. You are going to read that perfection and personal purity is antithetical to the general goal of animal liberation: less suffering.

Please don’t listen.

Veganism as an ethical philosophy is not about reducing suffering at all. Veganism is about life and it is about death. I’m not trying to be melodramatic, it’s simply the truth. Our choices either spare lives, or they take them. Do vegans want to reduce the suffering of all animals? Yes, of course, but through freedom and autonomy, not bigger cages.

Does this mean you can’t start your journey in stages or use the non-vegan items you already own until their useful life is over? Not at all. What it does mean is that we should be living with intention and saving as many animals as possible. Removing animal products from your life isn’t hard, it just takes a little practice.

The best way to inspire people is through honest, open, and respectful dialogue followed up with living by example. As vegans, we should never consider setting aside vegan ethics to appease someone else- no matter who they may be. If it’s someone you love, they’ll understand and respect you. If it’s someone you don’t, you’ll gain more respect living your convictions rather than conforming to what the mainstream has decided is normal.

If you set aside your vegan ethics for convenience, other people will too. You don’t have to hide your veganism- saving lives is nothing to be ashamed of. Be who you are, unapologetically. You are changing the world for animals. This is necessary and important work. You can advocate quietly or loudly, it doesn’t matter. Just continue to advocate without setting your ethics aside. People might tell you, “a little bit of animal products won’t kill you” and they’re right. Consuming some animal products won’t kill you- but it will kill animals.

Avoiding honey or bee products is consistent with veganism as an ethical philosophy because a bee is an animal- it has nothing to do with perfection or personal purity. As vegans we cannot ignore the ethical implications and environmental consequences of the bee husbandry industry, and doing so reduces our credibility as a serious movement trying to effect change. Honey isn’t some magical ingredient no one can avoid. It’s an animal product that has been mass marketed and mass manufactured for generations- and it’s been tested on animals. With so many vegan alternatives available, honey is not only exploitative, it’s unnecessary.

How to Help Bees & Other Pollinators

Bees are well-known as pollinators, but they aren’t alone. Other pollinators include birds, butterflies, ants, and even bats, among others. Animal pollinators are responsible for pollinating one-third of our crops and of that one-third, bees pollinate 75%. Flowering plants provide the vast array of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, flavonoids, antioxidants, and trace elements that are needed for good health. Humans could not survive a world without animal-pollinated plants, making saving pollinators an absolute necessity. Here’s how you can help.

Plant a Bee-Friendly Garden

Much like the rest of the non-human animal community, habitat loss is threatening the lives of bees around the world. From monoculture-based agriculture to perfectly manicured sprawling lawns in the suburbs, native landscapes vital to bees are disappearing. Add flowering plants to your garden or yard that bloom year round. If you have limited space, add a flower box or a container garden with flowering plants to create an inviting oasis that will help bees with foraging.

  • Rethink your lawn. Replace all or part of your lawn grass with flowering plants. This will provide food and habitat.
  • Plant native flowers. Native flowers help feed bees and are uniquely adapted to your region. Try to use native flowers that the local bees love. Find out which plants are the best for pollinators here.
  • Choose single flower tops such as daisies, rather than double flower tops such as double impatiens. Double headed flowers produce much less nectar and make it difficult for bees to access the pollen.
  • Steer clear of hybridized plants that have been bred not to seed. They produce very little pollen for bees.
  • Plan for year-round blooming. Plant at least three different types of blooming flowers to ensure flowers through as many seasons as possible. This will provide bees with a constant source of food.
  • Weeds can be a good thing. Wildflowers, many of which some might classify as weeds like clover and dandelions for instance, are not only some of the most important food sources for native North American bees, but to other native pollinators as well. Free yourself from the confines of the outdated idea that every house needs a well-manicured lawn. Letting your landscape flower is better for the pollinators and your back.

Build Homes & Supply Water for Native Bees

Native bees like to burrow and leaving a patch of the garden (or area in the lawn) uncultivated in a sunny area will encourage this behavior. “Some native bees also need access to soil surface for nesting.   For wood- and stem-nesting bees, this means piles of branches, bamboo sections, hollow reeds, or nesting blocks made out of untreated wood. Mason bees need a source of water and mud, and many kinds of bees are attracted to weedy, untended hedgerows.” (39) Bees also 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- such as a bird bath with some stones in it for them to crawl on. It’s important to remember to maintain the water supply to ensure that the bees know they can return to the same spot every day.

Do Not Use Herbicides and/or Pesticides on your lawn or garden

Avoid using herbicides or pesticides in the garden. The treatments you put on your lawn or garden can not only be toxic to bees, but also to the humans and other animals who visit. These treatments are especially damaging if applied while the flowers are in bloom because the chemical will get into the pollen and nectar. The bee collects the contaminated nectar and pollen and take it back to the hive where it gets into the honey- which can then be passed on to humans if they consume the honey. Ladybugs, spiders, and praying mantises will naturally keep the garden populations in check.

Buy local, organic food

Buying organic food means no pesticides, buying local food also means eating seasonally which can help you avoid foods that comes from monoculture crops. Buy produce from a local farmer’s market or co-op or a Community Supported Agriculture Farm.

Avoid Bee Products

There are many different ways to be a voice for the pollinators of our world from planting a garden to advocating for organic food, and each action is important in its own way. You may, in researching this topic, read that one way to help the bees is by becoming a beekeeper yourself. Some organizations will even promote the idea of supporting local beekeepers and encouraging them to use more “natural” and “organic” methods of beekeeping. But doing so would mean advocating for animal husbandry reform rather than advocating for animal autonomy, which would be antithetical to veganism as an ethical philosophy. A cleaner hive, a bigger hive, a hive that gets to eat honey instead of high fructose corn syrup, a hive that isn’t bombarded with antibiotics, or queens that aren’t artificially inseminated- these are all things that bees deserve, no doubt about it. But they also deserve a life free from human obligation.

Learn More

The catastrophic disappearance of honeybees is an ecological crisis that threatens to bring global agriculture to a standstill. Take a further look into our current agricultural landscape and the mysterious world of the beehive through documentaries and films about bees. Find several films that document this crisis by visiting Vegan Flicks, the YDV movie library.

Vegan Honey Alternatives

Finding a replacement for honey is super simple. There are plenty of vegan alternatives to help satisfy that sweep syrup craving you may have. While some are more like honey than others, all of them come from plants making these syrups friendly for everyone, human and animal.

Agave Nectar

Agave nectar is a sweetener commercially produced from several species of the agave plant. That’s right, the same plant that produces tequila (which explains why agave pairs so beautifully in tequila cocktails). Most agave comes from Mexico and South Africa. Agave is sweeter than honey and tends to be less viscous. And, like honey, agave nectar comes in a varietal of styles ranging from dark amber to light, each with their own distinct flavor. Dark agave has a caramel taste, while the lighter agave is more reminiscent of a delicate honey.

Coconut Nectar

Made from the reduced sap of coconut palms, coconut nectar has a sweet, tangy, taste with no coconut flavor. It is high in amino acids, vitamins and minerals. The nectar also is low-glycemic.

Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is a syrup usually made from the xylem sap of sugar maple, red maple, or black maple trees, although it can also be made from other maple species. In cold climates, these trees store starch in their trunks and roots before the winter; the starch is then converted to sugar that rises in the sap in the spring.

Molasses

Molasses is made by refining sugarcane or sugar beets into sugar. Interestingly, the word comes from the Portuguese melaço, ultimately derived from mel, the Portuguese and Latin word for “honey”. Perhaps your only experience with blackstrap molasses has been in gingerbread or baked beans. You probably never gave much thought to it, but blackstrap molasses is an excellent source of iron and calcium. Like other plant syrups, molasses has several varieties and flavors.

Barley Malt Syrup

Comes from sprouted barley, roasted and cooked down to a syrup with a malt-like flavor.

Brown Rice Syrup

Brown rice syrup is a sweetener made by exposing cooked rice to enzymes that break down the starches and turn them into smaller sugars. Then all the “impurities” are filtered out and all that is left is a thick dark syrup with a caramel type flavor.

Make Your Own Vegan Honey

Here are a few recipes to get you started:

Date Paste

You’ll need:

  • 1 cup pitted medjool dates
  • 2/3 cup hot water

To make date paste, place medjool dates into bowl. Pour hot water directly over top. Let them soak for an hour or more. Blend well in a high speed food processor (like a Vitamix or BlendTec) until smooth. The flavor is similar to caramel.

Shop for Vegan Honey Alternatives

Full disclosure, some of these links are affiliate links which means that Your Daily Vegan will earn a small commission on any of your purchases. Don’t worry, this is at no additional cost to you. For our full affiliate disclaimer click here. Thank you for supporting my work, I sincerely appreciate it.

Vegan Lip Service

If you are anything like me, you love a good lip balm. Dry, chapped lips are not only uncomfortable but they can also be the sign of an underlying illness or condition you may not know about such as dehydration, vitamin deficiency, or more a more serious condition. Luckily, applying lip balm can help cure some of the more common causes of chapped lips and can even prevent chapped lips from occurring. One of the most common ingredients in lip balm is beeswax. Since vegans avoid beeswax, you’ll want to look for lip balms that are made with pure essential oils mixed with candelilla, carnauba, or hemp wax. Check out Merry Hempsters Lip Balms, Hurrah Lip Balms, or my personal favorite Crazy Rumors Lip Balms which are all made with natural, vegan ingredients and will help keep those kissers kissable.

Vegan Beeswax Alternatives

“It’s none of your beeswax!” is a phrase I would use frequently as a six-year old child wanting to keep a secret and I find that my meaning then still applies today- it’s not yours, you can’t have it. Back then I was using beeswax to mean business, today I mean it more literally- let’s leave the wax to the bees. There are plenty of great alternatives.

Soy Wax

Soy wax is a vegetable wax made from the oil of soybeans. After harvesting, the beans are cleaned, cracked, dehulled, and rolled into flakes. The oil is then extracted from the flakes and hydrogenated. The hydrogenation process converts some of the fatty acids in the oil from unsaturated to saturated. This process dramatically alters the melting point of the oil, making it a solid at room temperature. (40)

Candelilla Wax

Candelilla wax is the exudate found on the leaves of a small scrub native to Mexico and the southwest. It is softer than Carnauba wax and is often used to make candles. Candelilla wax is used in lip balms, lipsticks, body butters, creams, lotions, hair pomades and other products.

Related Reading: From Desert Plants to Dollars: Candelilla, Wax Making, and Wax Products

Carnauba Wax

Carnauba wax is obtained from leaves of the palm tree Copernica Cerifera, known as the Brazilian “Tree of Life.” This tree grows and flourishes only in the northeastern parts of Brazil along river banks, streams, and damp lowlands and exudes a wax through the petioles of its fan-shaped leaves, preventing dehydration from the equatorial climate. The leaves that contain the wax are cultivated in a manner that does not harm the tree. (41)

Bayberry Wax

Bayberry wax is an aromatic green vegetable wax. It is collected from the surface of the fruit of the bayberry (wax-myrtle) shrub by boiling the fruits in water and skimming the wax from the surface of the water. The scent of bayberry candle is said to be strong. This naturally aromatic wax posses a unique fragrance has become a classic holiday scent. (42)

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PLANT-POWERED

Protein

It’s incredibly easy to get quality protein from plants. In fact, you don’t need as much as you probably think. A comprehensive guide on everything you need to know about protein.

Learn More
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THE BASICS

Why Vegan?

Living vegan is a direct action that you can take right now that will have an immediate, real-world impact on animals, the planet, and maybe even your health. Let’s show you how.

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VEGAN LIFESTYLE

Guides

Truth in Advertising

Your Daily Vegan is committed to providing accurate information to the vegan community. The information and data presented in this article has been meticulously researched, and is based on the information available to me at the time of publication. Each guide is periodically reviewed for accuracy and updated as necessary. You can find the update date listed at the end of every guide. Please contact me if you find out-of-date or incorrect information.

1. ^ Entomology Today. “Study Finds Honey Bees Originated From Asia Not Africa.” Retrieved January 20, 2016

2. ^ University of California. “Managed Bees Spread and Intensify Diseases in Wild Bees.” Retrieved January 20, 2016

3. ^ Vegetus. “Ecology.” Retrieved January 20, 2016

4. ^ Wikipedia. “Insects.” Retrieved November 1, 2014

5. ^ Time. “The Trouble with Beekeeping.” Retrieved November 6, 2014

6. ^ Wikipedia. “Bees.” Retrieved November 1, 2014

7. ^ Argauer, R. Agricultural Research Service, US Department of Agriculture. “Antibiotics in Beekeeping.” Retrieved November 4, 2014

8. ^ Extension. “Proceedings of the American Bee Research Conference 2010.” Retrieved November 7, 2014

9. ^ Vegetus. “Artificial Insemination of Bees.” Retrieved November 3, 2014.

10. ^ Bush Farms. “Natural Cell Size.” Retrieved November 3, 2014.

11. ^ NPR. “Funny Honey? Bringing Trust to a Sector Full of Suspicion.” Retrieved November 8, 2014

12. ^ Food Safety News. “Tests Show Most Store Honey Isn’t Honey.” Retrieved November 8, 2014

13. ^ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Honey Constituents Up-Regulate Detoxification & Immunity Genes.” Retrieved October 11, 2014

14. ^ Beesource. “Overwintering of Honey Bee Colonies.” Retrieved November 10, 2014

15. ^ Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “Survey of Bee Losses in Winter 2012 – 2013.” Retrieved November 11, 2014

16. ^ Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “Colony Collapse Disorder.” Retrieved November 11, 2014

17. ^ Mother Jones. “Is Your Garden Pesticides Killing Bees?” Retrieved November 11, 2014

18. ^ Harvard. “Sub-lethal exposure to neonicotinoids proceeding to colony collapse disorder.” Retrieved November 11, 2014

19. ^ Wikipedia. “List of Crops Pollinated by Bees.” Retrieved November 11, 2014

20. ^ Entomology Today. “Study Finds Honey Bees Originated From Asia Not Africa.” Retrieved January 20, 2016

21. ^ University of California. “Managed Bees Spread and Intensify Diseases in Wild Bees.” Retrieved January 20, 2016

22. ^ US Department of Agriculture. “US Pollination Services Market.” Retrieved November 11, 2014

23. ^ Biomed Central. “Effects of Honey Supplementation on Female Rats.” Retrieved November 13, 2014

24. ^ NCBI. “Effects of Honey Supplementation & Calcium Absorption.” Retrieved November 13, 2014

25. ^ Academia. “Effects of Tualang Honey on Female Reproductive Organs.” Retrieved November 13, 2014

26. ^ De Gruyter. “Review of animal models used to study effects of bee products on wound healing: findings and applications.” Retrieved January 23, 2016

27. ^ National Honey Board. “Honey Nutritional Information.” Retrieved November 6, 2014

28. ^ JAMA Network. “Effect of Honey, Dextromethorphan, and No Treatment on Nocturnal Cough & Sleep Quality for Children.” Retrieved November 4, 2014

29. ^ Wiley Online Library. “Clinical Observations on Wound Healing Properties of Honey.” Retrieved November 11, 2014

30. ^ National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). “Honey compared with silver sulphadiazine in the treatment of burns.” Retrieved July 9, 2014

31. ^ National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). “Effects of Aloe Vera Cream on Wound Healing.” Retrieved June 9, 2014

32. ^ National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). “Effect of ingestion of honey on symptoms of rhinoconjunctivitis.” Retrieved July 9, 2014

33 & 34. ^ Science Based Medicine. “Bee Pollen Supplements – Not Safe or Effective.” Retrieved November 3, 2014

35. ^ Live Science. “9 Myths About Seasonal Allergies.” Retrieved November 3, 2014

36. ^ Quackwatch. “Bee Pollen, Royal Jelly, and Propolis.” Retrieved November 3, 2014

37. ^ National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), US National Library of Medicine. “Propolis Allergy.

38. ^ SueBee. “Why Shouldn’t I Feed Honey to Infants Under 1 year of Age.” Retrieved November 8, 2014

39. ^ The Honeybee Conservancy. “Plant a Bee Garden.” Retrieved November 12, 2014

40. ^ Candle Science. “What Exactly is Soy Wax?” Retrieved November 12, 2014

41. ^ Wikipedia. “Carnauba Wax.” Retrieved November 12, 2014

42. ^ Wikipedia. “Bayberry Wax.” Retrieved November 12, 2014

43. General honey bee information obtained from York County Beekeepers’ Association. “Honeybee Facts.” Retrieved October 10, 2014

PHOTO CREDIT

Langstroth Hive | feck_aRt_post
Maple Syrup Jars | Chiot’s Run

This article is authored by KD Angle-Traegner. Last update January 2016.