By not eating honey you will ‘save’ the honeybee. 

This is a difficult one.  It is a fact that honey bees are in decline, at an alarming rate.  Not just those ‘enslaved’ by beekeepers but bees in the wild as well.  There are ten or so diseases potentially fatal to honeybees.  dead-bee-791x382These diseases spread from bee to bee, and from colony to colony, through the normal social contact of bees going about their normal bee activity – unknowingly passing virus, bacteria, fungus, moulds and parasites between themselves and each other.  As beekeepers we regularly inspect our hives for signs of these problems, and take the appropriate action to prevent or treat.  Wild bees simply die from these same diseases, or at best struggle against adversity – in the meantime spreading the infections far and wide, free from human ‘interference’.  From this perspective, domestic beekeeping plays a vital role in supporting honey bees to survive and thrive; beekeepers striving to protect and strengthen bee colonies against disease.  Again, this is more true of small-scale beekeepers, rather than those working on an industrial scale; for as hobbyists and small-scale producers we take care to protect and maintain the health of our bees – whereas larger scale operators may be more inclined to miss the signs, with such vast populations to monitor, and may prefer to destroy rather than treat, if disease is present.  They also work within a much more generous financial margin; the loss of one hive countered by the profits of another.  Whereas small independent beekeepers will be working within a much tighter financial framework, reaping smaller monetary rewards whilst very likely paying out more in higher quality bee care.   So, not eating honey will not ‘save’ the bees and could in fact have the total opposite effect; forcing the more responsible and environmentally aware beekeeper out of action, thus reducing the total bee population, with the resultant drop in monitoring and treatment leaving bee disease free to spread more freely.   bee flowers

One argument against this, is that bees in the wild ‘will find a way’ – the assumption being that their immune system will adapt to overcome the problem.  Well, yes and no.  In an ideal world, wild bees would be thriving, their immune systems and overall health bolstered by the array of nutrients found in natural forage.  But the truth is that natural bee habitat, including food-forage, has dramatically declined and continues to do so, meaning that bees – and other pollinator insects – simply do not have enough to eat, and what they do eat may be lacking in sufficient nutrients and/or contaminated by the chemical fertilisers and herbicides of industrial agriculture – the very same industrial agriculture that produces the fruit and vegetables eaten by vegans.  So you could argue, in reverse, that if you don’t eat honey but you DO eat fruit and vegetables, as a vegan you are yourself contributing to harming – rather than ‘saving’ – the bees!

Yes, I’ll say that again.  By eating fruit and vegetables (including nuts and seeds) you are benefiting from the work of honey bees – including those that are commercially managed.  The very same bees whose honey you may refuse to eat.

Let me explain.

The vast scale of industrial farming, and the absence of wild habitat, means there are simply not enough wild bees and other insects available to pollinate the huge fields of mono-crop agriculture.  r428922_2048632In the absence of sufficient wild insects it is normal practice for large-scale farmers to employ commercial beekeepers, transporting thousands of hives across thousands of miles to different locations at different times of the year, to pollinate these crops into production.  Almonds, for example (the key ingredient in that vegan staple; almond milk) rely on commercial bee pollination – as do so many of the foods central to a vegan lifestyle (avocados, for example).  Indeed, if you as a vegan want to truly avoid consuming products reliant on the commercial exploitation of honeybees, then your only option would be a greatly restricted diet; mainly grass-based cereal crops (wheat, oats, barley, etc), wind-pollinated plants (tomatoes – hoorah!) and non-pollinated crops (potatoes, for example).  Not much fun.  And not much help to the bees and other insects, nor your own health – or the environment as a whole.   pumpkins old plotThere is however a better way, and that is to buy only local and/or organic produce from small independent producers or, even better, grow your own (thus reducing the toxic load of agricultural chemicals).  You could also grow pollinator-friendly flowers to feed and strengthen your local bee (and other pollinator insect) population.  And you could also (here comes the curveball!) support your local small-scale beekeeper by  … buying and eating their honey!