Can 🍯 honey be 🌱 vegan?

I have had discussions about this question multiple times and interestingly most frequently with @AustrianFairphoners, which is why I thought this forum might be the right place to discuss this.

My opinion was always that it’s a question of definition: If you define a vegan product as a plant-based product, then honey is definitely not vegan - if you define a vegan product as something where no animals were killed, exploited or harmed - or bred to a degree that is harmful to the eco-system - then honey can be vegan if the beekeepers treat the animals right. Though until recently I had no real vision of what treating bees right would look like or an idea how horrible bees are treated otherwise.

I’m currently reading a German book about ecological beekeeping. In it the authors basically say that the horrible way bees are treated is a result of capitalism and the beekeepers dependence on selling lots of honey. Bee-hives are kept from multiplying naturally through swarming, but are instead split manually by the beekeepers and then get a laboratory-bred and artificially-inseminated queen. This and many other unnatural practices ensure maximum honey production.

The authors then propagate that instead of paying beekeepers for the honey-production of the bee-hives they should be payed for the main benefit of the bees: pollination.
That would ensure that a beekeepers’ main priorities would be the wellbeing of the bees and the preservation of biodiversity.

Even in ecological beekeeping there is a lot of human influence on the bee hive. But one could argue that it is more of a cooperation with mutual benefits than exploitation - just like there is between the bees and the flowers.
For example the beekeeper provides the hive with an ideal home and visits them regularly to check their health. The bees in turn produce honey, wax and propolis and the beekeeper only takes as much as the hive can spare or as is even beneficial to the hive. For example by taking away wax the bee hive is forced to renew the honeycombs from newly produced wax, which doesn’t contain any toxins and waste products that has already accumulated in the old wax.

So personally I’d consider ecological bee-products to be vegan. Reading the mentioned book even awakened the desire to become an ecological beekeeper myself - even though I’m not even sure I like honey.

What do you think?

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Für mich ist Honig nicht vegan, da die Bienen den Honig für den Winter brauchen.
Außerdem finde ich es nicht ok, daß ihnen Zuckerwasser oä dafür gegeben wird … Es ist Ausnutzung.
Filmempfehlung “More than honey”

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It’s defintely not vegan. A vegan product is a non-animal product and honey is an animal product. Regardless if the animals are well treated or the harm to nature is little. Just because an animal product is ecological, or no exploitation to animals, doesn’t make it vegan by defintion.
Nonetheless, what you regard to be okay for your own ethics is something else. I also heard the discussion, if you are vegan and adopt hens and they lay eggs. Do you throw them away or eat them if no cock is there to fertilize? I think this comes down to subjective preferences but it doesn’t make the product vegan.

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At the end of the day, honey is stolen surplus labour; but then, domesticated honey bees produce far more honey than they need to survive winter, and in most cases they’d quickly die off without human care.

It depends on how you view veganism - as an orthodox set of consumption options, or a moral preference, or a way to signal society that nature-friendly consumption options are desirable. I’d say that there is such a thing as vegan-friendly honey; this past year, here in Leiden, I’ve helped harvest about 300 kilos of some of the most vegan- and bee-friendly honey you’re likely to come across. These are some happy, healthy bees who live in a massive botanical garden that’s also full of wild bee species. For some of my vegan friends, it’s the only honey they’ll eat - though others still won’t touch it.

That having been said, I’m less interested in whether something can be classified as ‘vegan’ than I am in finding out the actual impact an action or product has. Fairphones aren’t entirely ‘fair’ so people still got hurt because of their production, so in that sense everyone here who owns an FP would have done better if they’d gotten a second hand phone. Of course we didn’t, and it could be argued that the message we’re sending by buying a fairer phone, and the fact that we’re going to make these phones last longer, compensate for the suffering it took to produce them - but it’s a complicated calculus for sure.

Which leads into the idea of consumption activism versus top-down systemic changes. I’m a communist so I think change should come from down here rather than up there, but the current system is rigged against bottom-up change so for now (considering the urgency of these matters) I’d rather see governments take actions. For instance, the Dutch government banning disposable plastics is a tiny step in the right direction - punish those polluting companies and make them come up with better solutions rather than forcing consumers to make more ecological but more expensive choices.

This is giving me cravings, I’m making tea and I will be adding some of that good botanical gardens honey.

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I would buy that honey!

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Yes, well I know that by an official definition honey can’t be vegan and I chose my question to be a bit provocative on purpose. A more accurate question would have been: Can honey be animal-friendly? or Would vegans eat animal-friendly honey?

To me it comes down to why you are a vegan. I became vegan a few years ago solely because of the environmental- and climate impact of (most) animal products. The concern about animal suffering came later.
So with my reason for being vegan good honey wouldn’t be a problem.
I do however also understand the impulse not to use any animal products at all.

I do agree with @robbert.f that the western honey bees have basically forgotten how to live by themselves after hundreds of years of capitalist bee-keeping. I think bee-friendly bee keeping could in the long run teach them to become a little more independent again.

Also you don’t have to feed the bees with sugar water. The beekeepers who wrote the book I’m reading say that feeding bees is only an emergency measure. You should only take surplus and if they ever do have too little you can feed them with their own honey from better times.

The comparison with the hens that lay unfertilized eggs is interesting. I don’t like eggs, but in that situation I wouldn’t have moral objections to eating the eggs. Though as a vegan I wouldn’t come across the idea of having hens in the first place, even if I could provide them with a animal friendly home. Bees on the other hand are a benefit to the local ecosystem.

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I understand what you mean paula. I think this comes down to a subjective opinion. Wheather as a vegan, who choses not to consume animal product for environmental reason, would consume a product of animal that is of no use to the animal and of no harm to the animal but the animals are beneficial to the environment.
My answer would come down to necessity. For a human being it is not necessary to consume animal products in any way. No matter if it’s food, clothes and so on.

The context of the thought experiment, with the hens, was that you save them from getting slaughtered, keep and treat them well like pets. Eat the eggs or throw them away? More of a moral thought experiment than taste. I guess if you don’t like it you won’t eat it, no matter if it’s moral :wink:

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As a vegan myself I say that honey is not vegan (ok no surprise)

My favorite “Vegan Honey” is so far:
Außerperskolerhof BIO HEENI

found no direct Link, but lots of online shops

I’m neither vegetarian nor vegan, but I have some problems with some of your arguments there. For human beings it’s absolutely necessary to eat meat, our heritage comes from omnivores, that’s also the reason why we have sharp-ish canine teeth. I’m not saying it’s totally unhealthy to eat vegan since I’m absolutely no diet expert, but you have to acknowledge that not consuming animal products takes away a large portion of the diet that evolution has designed us for, so one has to to be very concious about what to eat to not miss out on certain substances that aren’t commonly found in plants.

Secondly, I’d argue it’s stupid to throw the eggs away if you have hens. Throwing them away doesn’t change anything for the hen (eggs are gone either way), plus you just wasted perfectly fine food, and I think no one wants to do that, wether vegan or not.

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Eating meat was necessary, or rather it was one of the things that made us what we are now. But evolution is a process. What’s necessary at one point isn’t necessary any longer later. At a time we needed tails to move from tree to tree.

Actual dietary experts will tell you that average meat-eating humans have more dietary illnesses than vegans.

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I am sure that this is true, but you’re comparing apples and oranges. The average meat-eater doesn’t really care about her diet at all, so she also eats tons of sweets and McDonalds crap and so on, while the average vegan is much more concerned about her diet, so she generally eats healthier.
The comparison has to be made with a vegan and a “normal person” who both care about their diets.

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(Full disclaimer: reducetarian, former vegetarian and vegan.)

As a reducetarian I agree with the argument of @Stanzi that it is a waste to throw away perfectly edible food because of an -ism. I don’t agree with the first point; we can evolve away from what we have been. It is now possible to add B12 fermenting in plant-based food (e.g. chickpea) to gain a similar dose of B12 as from meat.

As for honey being vegan? My definition of vegan is about animal harm (because else you end up hurting plants and mushrooms). Bees are insects; insects don’t have a CNS; therefore, bees themselves are vegan.

More important, does it matter? If you follow strict defintion in-vitro meat is also not vegan, as the stem cell is from an animal. If you want to focus on reducing animal harm, there are much better battles to be fought. However the ideal of reducing animal harm is regularly at odds with the ideal of reducing environmental footprint.

We tried to culture our garden with flowers which attract bees. Two problems: we could no longer have the window open or they’d fly inside, and two our neighbor is allergic to the flowers. So we removed them. However a project like this allows you to give back to nature with a tiny gesture. It is a small amount of effort to improve your local ecosystem.

paula I think you forgot to add:
looking at the violent history of mankind that is nothing to be proud of

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What, for human surviving, essential nutrient is only found in animal products in your opinion?

How should I know, I’m happy with my food as long as it’s as organic as possible and not from Nestle or other disgusting companies.
But I’m sure that you can find lots of information from various standpoints on the internet.

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I am asking because of your following statements. I wanted to know on what they are based.

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I just watched More than Honey, the documentary that @EvaS recommended. It really very well explains everything that is wrong with capitalist beekeeping.
Just in case anyone watches it and thinks that what the old Swizz guy is doing is ecological bee-keeping: Far from it! He is breeding performance-sub-species and kills the queen if she mated with a drone from a different species. And he uses chemicals, so his bee-keeping is not even organic.

Even in ecological beekeeping there are different sets of practices. There are different organizations that give out certifications according to different rules. In the book I’m reading they are commending the Demeter certification in Germany as a very good one. But even the authors of the book sometimes do things or use things that I hope I won’t have to if I really become a beekeeper. E.g. I’d like to refrain from using a smoker.

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Bioactive [1] vitamin B12 can be problematic.

[1] Non-pseudo https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitamin_B12#Pseudovitamin-B12

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Organic is sometimes less efficient or worse for the environment.

I know, but randomly using antibiotics and pesticides isn’t good either. I’m not trying to falsify your argument, it’s just whatever you do, it will always have a negative impact in some way.

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