We used to eat honey, before we learned what it actually was and why bees make it. Turns out, bees don't make honey for humans and bears to eat. And they don't make it just for fun. One of the main reasons bees make honey is to feed to their babies. Baby bees (larvae) are too young to leave the hive to find food, so the adults must bring it back to them. Honey is basically bee baby food.
When an adult bee finds flower nectar, they take it in and partially digest it. When they return to the hive, they regurgitate it out and another bee takes it in and partially digests it and regurgitates it again. This happens several times, and the final regurgitation is what we call honey.
Honey is primarily used to feed the larvae, but it also sustains the entire hive during winter when flowers are not in bloom. So whenever a beekeeper takes honey from a beehive, they must replace it with something else, or the hive will die. Traditionally many beekeepers replaced the honey they took with some form of sugar-water or sugar-patties. These keep the bees alive but not necessarily as healthy as they would be on their natural intended diet. In recent years, some beekeepers have found something even cheaper than sugar...high fructose corn syrup. Thus it is not surprising that studies have shown that bees suffer greatly when they are denied their natural diet of honey and fed highly processed unnatural sweeteners. It's also been shown that bees raised on artificial sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup likely have compromised immune systems, leaving them unable to fight off certain pathogens they might have, if they were able to consume honey as nature intended. Other studies have shown that the bees who aren't allowed to consume their own honey are not as robust as natural wild bees...they can't fly as fast, can't fly as far, and alarmingly can't remember their intricate waggle dances that communicate where to find nectar-rich flowers and how to get back to their hive. It is suspected that many of these bees never make it back to their hive and simply die.
The health of the bees is of concern to humans because bees are responsible for pollinating an estimated one-third of the world's food supply. If the bees continue to disappear, this could lead to higher food prices for fruits, vegetables, and grains. In less wealthy countries, loss of bees could lead to food shortages and human starvation on a massive scale.
Many vegans already avoid honey because of the cruelty involved in honey production, and there are articles already written on the subject. But there is growing awareness that the issue of honey goes far beyond the animal compassion issue.
It's clear that the situation of the disappearing bees, commonly called Colony Collapse Disorder is serious. But thankfully more people are becoming aware of the link between Colony Collapse Disorder and eating honey. And for those who decide they want to be part of the solution (or at least not further contribute to the problem), substitutes for honey are now easily found in most supermarkets. Two of these are agave nectar (widely available in organic/raw varieties for those who prefer a less processed product), and real maple syrup. Brown rice syrup is another option, although you may have to go to more of a specialty health food store to find it.
We have been asked many times by people who are sincerely curious as to why we don't eat honey. And some people are surprised to learn the many compelling reasons to ditch honey. We are thrilled that awareness is spreading, but this knowledge still needs to be passed on. Please share this post with anyone who is curious about why vegans, and many non-vegans, don't eat honey. Further references are listed at the end of this post for those interested in learning more.
Colony Collapse Disorder is a complicated condition, and there is likely more than just one thing that contributes to the decline of bee populations. But this is clear: humans don't need to eat honey to survive and thrive, but bees do. And humans need bees to survive. Giving up honey is one small but significant (and relatively easy) way to help ensure bees get to keep more of their own honey that they desperately need.
Thanks for reading. Peace and love to all who live.
Susan and Ryan
Sources and References:
"Researchers find high-fructose corn syrup may be tied to worldwide collapse of bee colonies." phys.org. 30 April 2013.
"Honey constituents up-regulate detoxification and immunity genes in the western honey bee Apis mellifera." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. pnas.org. 20 March 2013.
"High Fructose Corn Syrup is Bad for Bees." Johns Hopkins Medicine, Integrative Medicine & Digestive Center. hopkinsmedicine.org. 09 Sept 2009.
"In situ replication of honey bee colony collapse disorder." Bulletin of Insectology. ISSN1721-8861. bulletinofinsectology.org. 2012.
"A nicotinic acetylcholine receptor agonist affects honey bee sucrose responsiveness and decreases waggle dancing." The Journal of Experimental Biology. jeb.biologists.org. 27 Feb 2012.
"Bees disoriented by low-level insecticide doses." INRA Science & Impact. The French National Institute for Agricultural Research.institut.inra.fr/en. 29 March 2012 (updated 09 Sept 2014).
"Field Research on Bees Raises Concern About Low-Dose Pesticides." Science Magazine. sciencemag.org. 30 March 2012.
"Researchers recreate bee collapse with pesticide-laden corn syrup." Mongabay. mongabay.com. 05 April 2012.
"Declining honeybees a 'threat' to food supply." NBC News. nbcnews.com. 02 May 2007.
"Why Vegans Don't Eat Honey." About.com. about.com.
"Why Honey Is Not Vegan." Vegetus.org. vegetus.org.
"Sneaky Ingredients." Vegan Start. veganstart.org.
"Who Owns the Bees?" Vegan Place. veganplace.wordpress.com. 19 March 2014.
"Hey! What's the Bee-g Idea? 6 Sticky Truths About Eating Honey" Vegan Motivation. veganmotivation.com.