Is Honey Vegan?
By KD Angle-Traegner / Last Update: January 2019
Honey is a hotly debated topic among vegans and non-vegans. Vegans avoid honey and bee products because bees make them. This avoidance makes sense. Vegans avoid animal products, and a bee is an animal.
But some people disagree and believe that avoiding minutia ingredients like honey can harm the vegan movement by appearing too rigid or difficult.
So, who’s right? Does the cultivation of honey and bee products hurt animals? What about the environment? Are bees animals? Are vegans just being extreme? Let’s find out.
Here is a practical guide to putting an end to the question, “Can you eat honey as a vegan?”
Frequently Asked Questions
Honey and veganism is a big topic, but there are a few questions that come up more than others.
Here are some answers to the most commonly asked ones.
Some well-intentioned vegans 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 food crops. Some vegan bloggers and organizations have made matters more confusing by claiming that only extreme vegans avoid honey.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The truth is, consuming honey is not only detrimental to bees, but it also’s damaging to the environment and has dangerous consequences for our food supply. And honey is tested on animals such as cats and dogs, among others.
Sure, it may seem extreme to avoid products made from insects. 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 survival. So, we should.
Yes, and no.
The first thing you should know about honeybees is that they aren’t native to North America. Honeybees come 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 came to North America sometime in the 1600s.
So, how did food crops get pollinated before 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 adverse 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. Because of the downturn, managed honeybees and bumblebees are frequently shipped to the United States to provide pollination services. But doing this poses dangerous risks to the wild bee population.
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. Researched discovered 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)
One problem is that 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. Sadly, even if infections in managed colonies disappear, other problems arise. 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 significant contributor to colony collapse, as are insecticides and monoculture crops.
Another important environmental factor to consider: most countries import honey. According to estimates, 42% comes from Argentina, China, Mexico, Canada, and India. About 85% in the UK comes from Vietnam, China, Mexico, Australia, and Argentina. While 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 United States alone pollinating crops. (3)
So, to sum it all up:
Managed honeybees do pollinate plants but are not helpful to the environment because they crowd out and bring disease to native keystone pollinators. Also, they use precious resources in both the transportation of the finished products and 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. As it is though, honey as food falls into the “use sparingly” category of the food pyramid. It’s sugar with no complex carbohydrates or amino acids and virtually no nutritional value.
Honey does contain “small amounts of vitamins and minerals, including niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc” according to the National Honey Board. Unfortunately, the heating and filtering process can be destructive. While this does not eliminate all enzymes, it does reduce the number left after processing.
Regardless, while proper nutrition is important, it doesn’t play a role in veganism as an ethical philosophy. After all, how many times have we heard that eating animals is vital to good health? Hundreds? Thousands?
Read more: Health Benefits & Honey
First, you’d have to head into the woods to find a hive made by native bees. Good luck with that. Native bee colonies are scarce and hard to find.
Next, if you do happen to find a native colony, removing the honey won’t be easy. Attempting to take it from the hive would destroy it. 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 hard for and need to survive.
Nope. Bees are accidental pollinators. The only thing they care about is collecting pollen and nectar for their young.
As bees move about collecting what they need, pollen sticks to their hairy bodies. Then it’s rubbed off onto other flowers. Eventually, it makes it the pistol of the plant where seed-production gets started. In this way, the pollination is entirely by accident. The bee does nothing to make it happen.
Since pollination occurs as a result of the natural behavior of bees, the answer to the question is simple. No, there are no ethical implications for eating food pollinated by bees.
That is, 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 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, crucial step.
You’d be surprised how often this comes up when discussing honey and veganism.
Someone who eats honey but avoids eggs is assuming 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 it 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. Not true. A vegan will avoid it because it comes from bees similar to how dairy products come from cows.
Also, you’ll see articles stating that people who avoid honey make the entire vegan concept unworkable or unfeasible for most people.
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. Plus, it’s tested on animals.
With so many vegan alternatives available, honey is not only exploitative, it’s unnecessary.
Read more: Vegan Purity & Perfection
Are Bees Animals?
If you were to ask, most people would be able to tell you that a dog is an animal. There’d be 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.
Let’s take a closer look.
Insects Are Animals
A bee is an insect. Are insects animals? Yes, absolutely.
Bees are flying insects related to wasps and ants. There are nearly 20,000 known species of bees 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.
Among the most diverse group of animals on the planet, including more than a million described species, insects represent more than half of all known living organisms. The number of extant species (living species) is between six and ten million, potentially representing over 90% of the differing animal life forms on Earth. (4)
The Importance of Insects
Insects play a vital role in our ecosystem which includes many functions such as soil turning and aeration, dung burial, pest control, wildlife nutrition, and pollination.
Take beetles for example. Beetles are scavengers who feed on dead animals, fallen trees, and other decaying matter. By doing so, they recycle biological materials creating the rich topsoil our crops need to thrive.
Insects, like butterflies, 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 instance. Finally, 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.
Is a honey bee an animal?
The short answer is yes; insects are animals. Vital, important animals and some of the most diverse group on the planet, including more than a million described species, insects represent more than half of all known living organisms.
How Is Honey Made?
Is honey bee barf? Let’s find out.
How do bees make honey?
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 or honey stomach, and a stomach used for eating. When full, the crop weighs almost as much as the bee does.
During the flight back to the hive, bees secrete enzymes 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, a process 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 placed 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, turning it into thick syrupy honey.
Honey is Survival Food, For Bees
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. (8)
Bees store pollen and honey during the active summer period. This cache of food stored in the honeycombs is what the bees survive on 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. (9)
Is Honey Bee Vomit or Poop?
Believe it or not, this question comes up again and again. The answer to both is no; bee vomit is closer maybe, but still not right. Nectar collected by bees is passed mouth-to-mouth from bee to bee through a process called trophallaxis until it reduces in moisture content and turns into honey.
So, honey is not technically bee vomit, but it does come from bees passing nectar between themselves.
Beekeeping aka The Bee Industry
If you’ve never thought about beekeeping before, you’re not alone; many people don’t.
For this guide, there are two styles of beekeeping: commercial and backyard hobbyists. Instead of oversimplifying and making sweeping statements about each, this section will focus on the practices that regularly occur in beekeeping and why they make honey not vegan.
Bees as Commodities
It’s unfortunate but true; beekeeping often tends to be overlooked as an exploitative practice. One reason for this may be because people have little idea that bees a part of the animal husbandry industry much like cows are.
Beekeepers hate when I say that, but it’s well-documented. Whether in a commercial setting or an idyllic backyard environment, raising bees for honey requires many of the same practices.
Let’s take a closer look.
Standard Beekeeping Practices
The following practices that regularly occur in managed bee colonies, both commercial and hobbyist setups. Not every beekeeper may use every method, but every technique listed is conventional within the industry.
Beekeepers regularly administer antibiotics to their bees. (10) This use has been proven to contribute to immune system deficiencies and promote the development of antibiotic-resistant super-pests and diseases. (11) 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 them. (12)
Artificial or Instrumental Insemination
Queen bees are inseminated using specialized equipment. Artificial insemination is used to breed bees with qualities that are advantageous to humans; to be more docile, change the color of the queen, or increase honey production. (13) (14) The instrumental insemination method is not only violating for the queen; it’s a death sentence for the drones involved, too. Beekeepers crush the drones and invert their bodies to make it easier to obtain the sperm. Once it’s collected, the beekeeper will discard the drone. (15)
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. (16)
Bees make and store honey during the active months. This cache of food stored inside the honeycomb is what bees survive on during times when the hive cannot forage for flower blossoms, like in the winter months.
Some beekeepers take the honey once the worker bees finish capping it, leaving the hive without the winter store it needs. Instead, it’s common practice for beekeepers to feed their bees nectar-replacements such as dry sugar, sugar water, pollen patties, and high fructose corn syrup, which isn’t the best for bees, maybe.
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 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. (17)
Loss of Harvest
There are five products most commonly harvested from bees: Honey, pollen, beeswax, propolis, and royal jelly. Honey is their primary food source, and there is no benefit to the bees when we take it, primarily if replaced with inferior human-made sugar mixtures. Pollen is another source of food taken that, again, has no advantage to the bees when we remove it.
Together with taking their food, beekeepers will take beeswax when harvesting honey. The process begins by collecting the entire comb structure and melting it down, then straining the wax out. Propolis — the sticky glue bees use for construction and medicinal purposes — might also be taken.
And then there’s royal jelly. First, to collect it, the queen is removed from a group of young bees. This removal stimulates the young bees into making new queens. Next, each new queen larvae dines on a small amount of royal jelly. Finally, the beekeeper kills the queen larvae, and the royal jelly removed.
In each of these cases, bees worked tirelessly to create these products and need them for their survival. By contrast, we don’t.
Loss of Life
Beekeepers typically kill queen bees every one to three years and replace them with new. In unmanaged hives, bees would decide if and when to remove the queen themselves.
In addition to these deliberate deaths, during honey harvesting and collection even the kindest and most gentle beekeeper will unintentionally injure, crush, or kill some bees. It’s unavoidable.
While there are several different methods for harvesting honey, extraction is the most common. Smaller bee operations with only a few colonies can use more gentle methods, like gently sweeping bees off of the honeycombs with a bee brush. Larger, commercial-scale beekeepers manage thousands of colonies at a time, making it difficult to spend the time and necessary care for bee removal. Methods used with these colonies include using a leaf blower to blow bees off of the honeycomb or using a noxious combination of essential oils to drive the bees out of the nest. (18)
In either situation, bees can (and do) die.
False Advertising & Fraud
Finally, you may not be eating what you think you’re eating: mislabeling is rampant in the worldwide honey industry. (19) One study done found that 3/4 of the 60 jars of honey tested were found to be counterfeit and contained no bee pollen. (20) In another study, foreign sugars were found 1.4 times in every ten honey samples tested. (21)
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 most significant portion comes from the rental of managed 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. (22)
Pollination Before Honeybees
The first thing to know about honeybees is that they aren’t native to North America. Honeybees come from an ancient lineage of cavity-nesting bees from Asia around 300,000 years ago that rapidly spread across Europe and Africa. They arrived in North American sometime in the 1600s. (1)
So, how did food crops get pollinated before the arrival of honeybees? The answer is native, or keystone, pollinators.
Keystone pollinators are native pollinators who are vital to the survival of an ecosystem. The broad variety of native pollinators includes more than 3,500 species of bees (many of which are solitary), moths and beetles, and other animals such as bats and birds. (23) There is an adverse impact on keystone and native pollinator populations from honeybees through crowding and stealing of pollen and nectar that would otherwise be available to them.
Managed Honeybees Pose Risks to Wild Bees
Wild pollinators are in decline in many parts of the world. Because of the downturn, managed honeybees and bumblebees are frequently shipped to the United States to provide pollination services. But doing this poses dangerous risks to the wild bee population.
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. They discovered 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)
Globalization Can Bring Infections
One problem is that 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. (24)
Sadly, even if infections in managed colonies disappear, other problems arise. 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 significant contributor to colony collapse, as are insecticides and monoculture crops.
The Additional Environmental Costs of Honey
Another important environmental factor to consider: most countries import honey. According to estimates, 42% comes from Argentina, China, Mexico, Canada, and India. About 85% in the UK comes from Vietnam, China, Mexico, Australia, and Argentina. While Germany, the world’s largest importer of honey, gets theirs from Argentina, China, and Mexico. (25)
Not only that, there’s the impact on the environment from transporting managed colonies back and forth across the United States alone pollinating crops.
Pollinators-for-Hire Raises Ethical Questions For Us All
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. (26)
This practice raises ethical questions for both vegans and non-vegans alike. Seeing, all animals rely on plants for survival, directly or indirectly, and our food supply is dependent upon the pollination of 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. In doing so, it would prevent millions of bees being bred and managed to produce honey and by-products which would reduce the transmission of disease, and allow native pollinators to return to areas where managed populations have taken control.
Science & Research
The science and research about pollinators are always growing. Here are a few articles and academic papers to note for further exploration and additional information:
- 2018 – Experts at the Department of Zoology at Cambridge University found that the rise in amateur beekeepers is contributing to the decline of wild bees saying, “Keeping honeybees is an extractive activity. It removes pollen and nectar from the environment, which are natural resources needed by many wild species of bee and other pollinators…Honeybees are artificially-bred agricultural animals similar to livestock such as pigs and cows. But this livestock can roam beyond any enclosures to disrupt local ecosystems through competition and disease.” Continue to full article >> Think of Honeybees as ‘Livestock’ Not Wildlife, Says Experts
Why Don’t Vegans Eat Honey?
Whether in a commercial setting or an idyllic backyard environment, raising bees for honey require many of the same practices of interference and manipulation used in farming (other) animals for food. That reason alone is enough to make it off-limits to vegans, but there are also environmental and ethical issues surrounding its production too. Vegans don’t eat it because honey is an animal product made by animals.
Honey is Tested on Animals
One little-known fact about honey is that it’s tested on animals. Sadly, animals are dying to determine the effects honey has on human health. Typically, these tests are 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.
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 affects hormonal profiles — the animal model for menopause — and many others not listed here. (27, 28, 29)
Read the in-depth examination in the article, If You Eat Honey, Read This.
Of all the critical factors to consider when examining honey and bee products, animal testing is the most heinous and needless.
Is Honey Healthy?
Honey has a reputation for being good for us, but is it true?
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 a mother who heard it from their mother’s mother.
The Health Benefits of 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 it, as did the Greeks, Romans, and some other cultures. What I’m saying is, honey has history, and with good reason too.
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 it that creates hydrogen peroxide as a by-product. Also, there have been animal studies done on the efficacy of honey and bee products used for medicinal purposes that have had varying degrees of success.
Sounds good, right? Not so fast.
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 a traditional food pyramid.
In basic terms, it is just sugar with 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.” (30) However, heating and filtering honey is a destructive process- while it does not eliminate all enzymes, it does significantly reduce the number left after processing.
Regardless, while nutrition is essential to our overall health, it has no role in veganism as an ethical philosophy. After all, how many times have we heard that eating animals is vital for good health? Hundreds? Thousands? Plenty.
Top Three Common Honey Health Claims
1. 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.
In the same study,
“This study is somewhat limited by the fact that each child had a physician visit between the two nights of the study, which may provide some of the explanation for the improvement in all of the groups, including the no-treatment group.” (31)
2. 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. (32)
“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. 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 post hemorrhoidectomy patients. Those using aloe versus placebo had significant improvement with pain management and healing.” (33, 34)
3. 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. Just the opposite:
“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.” (35)
The (Purported) Health Benefits of Bee Supplements
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 products have a long laundry list of purported health benefits, but these claims are without reliable 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?” (36)
“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.” (36)
“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 (37)
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. (38)
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 (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. (39)
How to Help Bees & Other Pollinators
Humans could not survive a world without animal-pollinated plants, making saving pollinators an absolute necessity.
Here’s how you can help.
Easy Ways to Help Pollinators
Bees are well-known as pollinators, but they aren’t alone. Other pollinators include birds, butterflies, ants, and even bats, among other small mammals. Animal pollinators are responsible for pollinating one-third of our crops and of that one-third, bees pollinate roughly 75% of it.
Pollinators have an essential role in sustaining our ecosystem and produce natural resources by helping the plants reproduce. Without the actions of pollinators, our food supply and surrounding landscapes would collapse.
Here are six ways you can help native pollinators not only survive, but thrive.
1. Plant a Bee-Friendly Garden
Habitat loss is threatening the lives of bees around the world. From monoculture-based agriculture to perfectly manicured lawns in neighborhoods, native landscapes vital to bees are disappearing.
You can help.
- Rethink your lawn. Replace all or part of your lawn grass with flowering plants. Doing so will provide food and habitat.
- Plant native flowers. Native flowers help feed bees and are uniquely adapted to your region. Here’s a list of plants pollinators love.
- Choose single flower tops. Double-headed flowers produce much less nectar and make it difficult for bees to access the pollen.
- Steer clear of hybridized plants. These are plants that have been bred not to seed, and 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 to 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, are not only some of the most critical food sources for native North American bees but to other native pollinators as well. Letting your landscape flower is better for the pollinators and your back.
If you have limited space, try to add a flower box or a container garden with flowering plants to create an inviting oasis that will help with foraging.
2. Supply Homes & Water for Native Bees
Native bees like to burrow. 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 the 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.” (40)
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 birdbath with some stones on the bottom. 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.
3. Do Not Use Herbicides or Pesticides
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 takes 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.
4. Buy Local, Organic Food
Buying organic food means no pesticides, buying local food also means eating seasonally which can help you avoid foods that come from monoculture crops. Buy produce from a local farmer’s market or co-op or a Community Supported Agriculture Farm.
5. Don’t Mow Grass As Often
Of all the actions on this list, this one might be the easiest to do. Or, not do as in this case. Having no lawn is best, but if you do have one, mow it less often. Mowing every two to three gives insects and other pollinators an opportunity to forage on flowering plants before they disappear again.
6. Avoid Bee Products
There are many different ways to be a voice for pollinators. You may, in researching this topic, read that one way to help bees is by purchasing honey and other bee products from small, local farmers.
Instead, I’m suggesting we do something different.
A cleaner hive, a bigger hive, a hive fed honey instead of high fructose corn syrup, a colony free from antibiotics, or queens who aren’t artificially inseminated; these are things that all bees deserve, no question. But they also deserve a life free from human obligation.
Learn More About Bees
The catastrophic disappearance of honeybees is an ecological crisis that threatens to bring global agriculture to a standstill. Take a further look at 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.
Vegan Alternatives to Honey & Bee Products
Good news! Finding vegan alternatives for honey and other bee products is a snap!
Vegan Honey Alternatives
There are plenty of vegan alternatives to help satisfy any sweep syrup craving you may have. While some are more like honey than others, all of them come from plants.
- Agave Nectar: A sweetener commercially produced from several species of the agave plant. Agave is sweeter than honey and tends to be less viscous. Like honey, it comes in a varietal of styles ranging from dark amber to light, each with their distinct flavor.
- Barley Malt Syrup: A malt-likey syrup comes from sprouted barley, roasted and cooked down to a syrup.
- Brown Rice Syrup: 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.
- Coconut Nectar: Nectar made from the reduced sap of coconut palms, has a sweet, tangy, taste with no coconut flavor. It is high in amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. It’s also is low-glycemic.
- Maple Syrup: This pancake staple comes from the sap of sugar maple, red maple, or black maple trees.
- Molasses: Molasses comes from refining sugarcane or sugar beets into sugar. Like other plant syrups, molasses has several varieties and flavors.
Shop for Vegan Honey Alternatives
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Homemade Vegan Honey Recipes
- 1 cup pitted Medjool dates
- 2/3 cup hot water
To make date paste, place Medjool dates into a bowl. Pour hot water directly over top. Let them soak for an hour or more. Blend well in a high-speed blender like a Vitamix or BlendTec, or food processor until smooth. The end flavor is similar to caramel.
More Vegan Honey Recipes to Try:
Vegan Beeswax Alternatives
“It’s none of your beeswax!” is a phrase I would frequently use 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 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 extracted from the chips 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. (41)
Candelilla wax is the exudate found on the leaves of a small shrub native to Mexico and the southwest. It is softer than Carnauba wax and is often used to make candles. You’ll spot candelilla wax in lip balms, lipsticks, body butter, creams, lotions, pomades, and other products.
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. (42)
Bayberry wax is an aromatic green vegetable wax. It is collected from the surface of the fruit of the bayberry shrub (wax-myrtle) 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. (43)
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 severe disease.
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 the lip balm is beeswax. Since vegans avoid beeswax, you’ll want to look for lip balms made with pure essential oils mixed with candelilla, carnauba, or hemp wax.
Perfection & Personal Purity
“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” – Voltaire
Real Talk About Veganism
Of all of the stereotypes that vegans face daily, the following 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. They believe that every action harms some animals, so worrying about minutia animal ingredients in food is 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 is.
The Truth Shall Set Us All Free
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 mostly non-vegan one; the very least vegans can do is avoid every animal product possible. Honey and bee products are solidly on this list.
No One Is Perfect
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 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’re 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 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 or humane deaths.
Heart-to-Heart; Vegan-to-Aspiring-Vegan; Me-to-You
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.
A Clear, Consistent Message
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 affect 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.
Truth in Advertising
I am committed to providing accurate information to the vegan community. Meticulously researched, the topic explored in this guide contains the knowledge available at the time of publishing. Reviews and updates happen when new material becomes available.
Please contact me if you find incorrect data.
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