By KD Angle-Traegner, Founder & Editor

I’m going to get straight to the point: this article is about honey. That’s right, another article that talks about vegans who eat honey. I can almost hear the “pragmatic vegans” across the world collectively sighing right now. I know there are plenty of people who wish that vegans would stop talking about whether or not honey is vegan- I’m one of them. Of all of the topics about veganism out there, honey is one of the most divisive. But if you are a vegan who still consumes honey, then you need to know what I’m about to tell you because it’s likely you’ve never heard it before.

What You Don’t Know Can Hurt Animals

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

By now you’ve probably read quite a few articles about honey consumption. Here’s a short list of the reasons to avoid honey that might have been mentioned in those articles:

  1. Bees are animals
  2. Bees are artificially inseminated
  3. Bee colonies are nothing more than factory farming for bees
  4. Bees get injured or killed during the harvesting of honey
  5. Bees pollinate crops and are good for the environment (or are they?)
  6. Colony Collapse
  7. Honey has many healthful properties
  8. Only vegan purists avoid honey
  9. There are a slew of honey and bee product alternatives to eat, burn, and slather on lips

And all of that is true. But here is what most articles leave out: honey is tested on animals. Let me rephrase that, honey is tested on dogs (and cats, horses, donkeys, cattle, sheep, goats, rabbits, mice, and rats).

The connection between honey and animal testing isn’t something I recently learned. I discovered this dirty little secret when I was researching the purported health benefits of honey for what is one of the most popular guides I’ve ever written, A Vegan’s Guide to Honey. If you’ve never read the guide, please do. Not only do I talk about the issues surrounding the consumption of honey, I also provide a guide to all the alternatives out there. It’s extremely comprehensive, and there isn’t anything else like it on the internet that I know of.

Discovering that honey is tested on animals shocked me. I thought it would shock others, too. Generally speaking, I was wrong. I get the most unfollows on social media any time that I even dare to utter the word honey. Each time I do, I mention animal testing. It’s been my experience that people have no idea that these studies exist. I’ve never seen it addressed on any other vegan website, or in any other article about honey and veganism. The strange thing is, when I start talking about these tests people tend to stop listening. It’s as if they’d rather not know. People get very angry when you tell them that honey isn’t vegan. Sorry not sorry, get mad. Honey isn’t vegan.

Recently, I came across an article about animal studies and honey that I hadn’t seen before. What I read made me sick to my stomach and I knew that I’d have to write about honey again. And this time, I’m hoping that this information changes the conversations about honey and veganism forever.

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Introduction

In 2015, the Jordan University of Science and Technology published a comprehensive review of the most recent findings of published experimental and clinical trials on honey. These studies used honey as an agent for would healing enhancement in various animal models from all over the world. According to this review, non-healing wounds are often associated with high morbidity in both human and veterinary medicine. The growing emergence of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria presents great medical challenges. So, research has been focusing on finding alternative therapies that can potentially prevent and/or eliminate the threat of resistance, enhance healing, and stimulate tissue repair. That’s where honey comes in.

Honey has an unusual chemical makeup. It’s low in moisture, extremely acidic, and has an environment that bacteria and microorganisms cannot 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. Because of this, researchers believe honey could become the alternative therapy that they have been looking for. But you know what? Aloe vera has also shown to have significant improvement with both pain management and healing with posthemorroidectomy patients. (1, 2) So why couldn’t we simply use aloe vera, an already proven effective therapy?

The Tests

There are many reasons why people choose to live a vegan life. Some people care about animals, others about the environment, and some just care about their own health. To each their own. I don’t care why someone is vegan, I only care that they are. I am vegan for the animals first and always. Personally, knowing that honey comes from a bee (an animal) is enough to stop me from consuming it. And if that or the other eight reasons I listed above wasn’t enough, knowing that honey is tested on animals would absolutely stop me from eating it.

I hope that by sharing the general specifics about these tests that I will finally eliminate all doubt that vegans should not be consuming honey. Keep in mind, these are just a few of the tests, there are many more.

Cattle, Sheep, Goats

In Kenya, honey has been used for the treatment of foot and mouth disease in dairy cattle. (3) In Algeria, honey was used after eye enucleation in a dairy cow. (4) In these instances, the animals used in testing were not surgically wounded to qualify for testing, but this isn’t always the case. In Iraq, a study was conducted to evaluate the effect honey has on the healing of full-thickness wounds in 12 Awassi sheep. A 5 cm full-thickness skin wound was surgically created on the right flank of each animal. Honey was then rubbed on to see if an infected would would heal faster. (5) In Nigeria, honey was used to treat experimental surgically-created wounds in Nigerian Dwarf goats. (6)

Just to be clear- a full-thickness wound is defined as a would with skin loss where subcutaneous fat may be visible but bone, tendon, or muscle are not exposed. In other words, ow. And “surgically-created” means a human-induced wound made for the specific purpose of studying.

Horses and Donkeys

Here in the United States, the effect of topical application of honey on the healing of a second-intention wound- a wound that is left open to close naturally- was performed on horses. A wound was created on the horses legs, contaminated with feces, and bandaged for 24 hours. Honey was then used to see if it would reduce the duration of the infection. (7)

In Egypt, the efficacy of a honey and cod liver oil mixture for wound treatment was conducted using 18 wounds on nine donkeys. (8) They also performed tests using propolis, the 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, as a wound dressing for old wounds. This time testing was performed on 18 horses and 14 donkeys. These wounds were also surgically induced. (9)

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Dogs and Cats

The use of dogs and cats in animal experimentation is widely supported by the scientific community. Cats are routinely used in the filed of neurology and human biology. Dogs are used for medical research, hormonal disorders, cardiology, and osteopathic studies. (10) And both are used in the studies of the efficacy of honey use in wound healing.

In a study conducted in Nigeria, research was performed on 24 young (three to four month old) mongrel dogs. The dogs underwent surgical removal of 70% of the small intestine. They were given an oral glutamine-honey combination to determine the wound healing and closing times in the dogs. A similar clinical study was performed in Iran on 30 dogs. Rectangular wounds were created on both sides of spine and honey was used to treat the areas for a period of 28 days. (11, 12) The effectiveness of using propolis for treatment of surgical full-thickness skin wounds in dogs was also studied by surgically-creating five full-thickness wounds on the back area of 20 mongrel healthy dogs. (13)

In Ontario, Canada, the successful use of honey was described as a wound dressing for the treatment of an open wound in a cat, which resulted from feline gangrenous mastitis. (14)

Laboratory Animals

Many different species of animals are used in animal testing, but the most common include mice, rats, guinea pigs, hamsters, rats, rabbits, and fish. The most common laboratory animals to be used in the study of honey have been mice, rats, and rabbits. The 2015 review published by the Jordan University of Science and Technology detailed 17 different clinical trials and experimental control studies using these animals.

These studies relied on methods such as surgically inducing full-thickness wounds in mice and rats, as well as chemically-inducing burn wounds on rabbits. One test detailed using 45 adult Sprague-Dawley rats that underwent a laminectomy. As a reference, a laminectomy is the removal of the back part of the vertebra that covers the spinal canal. The laminectomy site was treated with honey to determine its effects on healing. All rats were killed 4 weeks after laminectomy. (15) In another study, one hundred and seventy-two young rats were surgically wounded and then treated with honey to determine the rate of healing. After three weeks, all one hundred and seventy-two rats were killed. (16) And in yet another study performed on rabbits, honey was mixed with Pistacia lentiscus fatty oil (PLFO) to enhance the healing of burn wounds created using the standard burn wound model. (17)

It’s worth noting that the standard model for burns was developed on pigs and it’s pretty terrible. (18) Here’s the description from one such burn study done on rabbits:

Four burns of identical size (3 cm in diameter) were created on the back of each animal, two cranially ( left and right) and two caudally (left and right), by a metal cylinder weighing 200 g immersed in prior in boiled water for 3 mins and maintained on animal skin 15 seconds. (19)

That’s terrifying.

Conclusion

It is estimated that more than 115 million animals worldwide are used in laboratory experiments each and every year. Horrifyingly, because only a small portion of the countries actually collect and publish data regarding these numbers, the actual number is unknown. Here in the United States, up to 90 percent of all animals used in animal testing are excluded from official statistics. This means that the figures published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture are only an estimate. According to data, more than 12 million animals are used each year within the European Union. (20)

These numbers are staggering. It’s unknown how many animals are devoted to honey testing. What we do know is that interpreting the results obtained from these studies is rather difficult and usually hampered by a bunch of factors including: the great variation in types and origins of honey, the type of animal species used as models, the type of wounds, the number of animals, the number and type of controls, and variation in treatment protocols. And believe it or not, that’s not all that unusual for animal testing.

Most people believe that animal testing is necessary in order to help prevent or cure human illness and diseases, but this is largely untrue. Animal models are cruel, expensive, and unreliable. According to The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, drugs tested on animals have a 92% failure rate. This means they are certified safe as a result of animal studies, but then fail in human clinical trials or once they reach the public. It doesn’t have to be this way. Learn more about animal testing by visiting pcrm.org and find out how you can help stop unnecessary testing on animals.

There are a lot of reasons that vegans, or anyone, should avoid consuming honey- animal testing is just one of them. But if you ask me, it’s a big one. Not only that, it’s something that a lot of people don’t know. So the next time you’re on Facebook or other social media site and you see someone post something about how they are a vegan who eats honey, send them this article and the Vegan’s Guide to Honey. Because honey isn’t some magical ingredient that 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.

Updates to this Article

Since writing this article I’ve had quite a few of the same comments and/or questions. The most frequently mentioned one has been that everything has been tested on animals at some point, so it’s pointless to avoid honey and/or the mere fact that honey is tested on animals isn’t a good basis for the honey debate. Please keep in mind, I listed 9 other reasons to avoid honey even before I started talking about animal testing. Those reasons are expanded upon by clicking through to the Vegan’s Guide to Honey. I go into much more detail about those other reasons there. This article is specifically addressing one largely unknown fact- honey is tested on animals. 

As someone who lives as a vegan, I know that there are animal ingredients in this non-vegan world that I cannot avoid such as cars, computers, medications. Since I can’t avoid everything, I avoid everything I can and honey is on that list.

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. Please contact me if you find out-of-date or incorrect information.

1. National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). “Honey compared with silver sulphadiazine in the treatment of burns.” Retrieved March 11, 2016

2. National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). “Effects of Aloe Vera Cream on Wound Healing.” Retrieved March 11, 2016

3. National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). “Use of ethnoveterinary remedies in the management of foot and mouth disease lesions in a dairy herd.” Retrieved March 9, 2016

4. Clinical Microbiology. “Wound care with euphorbia honey after nucleation: a case report.” Retrieved March 9, 2016

5. Al-Khazraji K.I., Al-Byatee A.J., Falih A.B. “Therapeutic use of honey for skin wounds healing in Iraqi awassi sheep.” Retrieved March 9, 2016

6. Nigeria. University of Ibadan, Nigeria. “Honey in the post-surgical wound management in goats. Retrieved March 10, 2016

7. Bischofberger A.S., Dart C.M., Perkins N.R., Dart A.J. “A preliminary study on the effect of manuka honey on secondintention healing of contaminated wounds on the distal aspect of the forelimbs of horses.” Retrieved March 10, 2016

8. Veterinary World. “Cod liver oil/honey mixture: an effective treatment of equine complicated lower leg wounds.” Retrieved March 10, 2016

9. Middle-East Journal of Science. “Evaluation of the effectiveness of propolis compared with honey on second intention wound healing in the equine.” Retrieved March 9, 2016

10. About Animal Testing. “Cats and Dogs Used for Testing.” Retrieved March 11, 2016

11. & 12. Journal of Veterinary Resources. “Clinical and histopathological evaluations of local honey application in the healing of experimental wounds in dog.” Retrieved March 10, 2016

13. Veterinary Journal Science. “Surgical and histological evaluation of the effectiveness of propolis on wound healing.” Retrieved March 11, 2016

14. National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). “Feline Gangrenous Mastitis.” Retrieved March 11, 2016

15. National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). “Effect of honey on peidural fibrosis formation after laminectomy in rats: a novel experimental study.” Retrieved March 15, 2016

16. National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). “The Effects of Supplemental Zinc and Honey on Wound Healing in Rats.

17. Humane Society International. “About Animal Testing.” Retrieved March 15, 2016

18. ILAR Oxford Journal. “Porcine Models of Cutaneous Wound Healing.” Retrieved March 15, 2016 

19. National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). “Evaluation of Pistacia Lentiscus Fatty Oil Effects on Glycemic Index, Liver Functions and Kidney Functions of New Zealand Rabbits.” Retrieved March 15, 2015

20. National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) “Effect of Virgin Fatty Oil of Pistacia Lentiscus on Experimental Burn Wound’s Healing in Rabbits.” Retrieved March 15, 2016

21. The Physicians Committee (PCRM). “Animal Testing and Alternatives.” Retrieved March 15, 2016