Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Vegetarian & Vegan >
Jan 6, 2014 12:44 PM

Serious question about vegans and bees.

Just watched the bee documentary "More Than Honey." Well done and pretty interesting. I know that vegans don't do honey because it's derived from an exploitative process, however the nectar acquisition phase is part of a more exploitative process. Due to declining bee populations around the world and here in the US, most of the pollination that occurs with fruit and nut growers is the result of "rented" bees. How do vegans reconcile eating almonds (nearly all of which are produced by this process) or tree fruit when these products are only made possible through forced bee labor?

I've googled this and I'm nowhere near the first person to ask this but it's a decidedly different question today than it may have been 20 years ago.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
    1. Vegans are just trying to do their best, I think. Most know very well that perfect veganism, or a life completely separated from cruelty, exploitation and killing, is pretty much impossible.

      2 Replies
      1. re: ninrn

        I like Kathy Freston's mantra: Progress, not perfection.

      2. I am a vegan-ish beekeeper. We harbor our bees not for honey, but because of the declining bee populations. And we treat our bees with a great deal of respect, not like many commercial beekeepers who seem like the equivalent of meat factory farms. Every life matters.

        The hives that are transported in for pollination spend many days closed up on bumping along on trucks, and sit in the desert eating sugar syrup, waiting for the bloom time. I try to avoid almonds and the like because of that - I take bee exploitation closer to heart than other vegans might.

        It's a complicated issue with no easy answers - you quickly run out of things to eat if you go too far down that road. But like other commenters have said, you do what you can.

        4 Replies
        1. re: patricium

          Hi patricium, If I purchase honey from a small, local beekeeper, would you say that's bad for the bees? Does all honey harvesting hurt them? I've read that a swarm of bees tends to produce excess honey and that when that happens some bees take the excess and start another hive. So if the excess is harvested, the swarm won't divide and expand, but it also won't be hurt. Is this true? Thanks, ninrn

          1. re: ninrn

            Small ("hobbyist") beekeepers generally don't do the migratory pollination. Most hives do make an excess of honey over the course of a season, and there's no reason honey harvesting has to harm individual bees. Some people leave all the honey in the hive until after winter, then take what's left as the harvest. The amount of honey in the hive is not directly related to swarming behavior, but that's a subject for a beekeeping forum. ;-)

            There are other things you could ask about if you are concerned about compassionate treatment of bees. It's hard to know where the beekeeper draws the line, and where you want to draw the line for yourself. For example, many beekeepers don't take care not to squash bees while working on the hives. Others don't check on their hives during the winter, and sometimes the bees starve because they run out of food even if they started out with a lot of honey. I'd like to think there are other beekeepers like me who go out on cold days and warm up individual bees who have gotten too cold to move.

            1. re: patricium

              There is the problem of honey crystalizing over the winter, which makes extraction impossible.. been there...

          2. re: patricium

            Thanks. As a lifelong omnivore it's something that's crossed my mind on occasion but didn't really dwell on until I watched "More Than Honey." It's ironic that the dreaded Africanized bees are being looked at as saviors to the bee population due to their resistance to mites and bacterial infections.

          3. I thought this commentary on colony collapse by Paul Strommer, a Philadelphia-area apiarist, might be an interesting addition to this thread:

            "Now for some cold water. Maybe it isn't pests, pesticides, and modern agriculture. Maybe it is beekeeping itself.
            Maybe it is big commercialized migratory pollination operations that are really to blame...

            "Think about it. As a bee you live only 30 days (in summer) and only about 14 days is spent foraging so your orientation to the native environment is important: Plants, altitude, temperature, magnetic north, the sun.

            "Yet you travel by tractor trailer from the great lakes in summer, to Florida for the holidays, then to California in late January (think almonds), then back to the great lakes for spring, then the cranberry bogs and blueberry operations in the northeast etc. etc. etc.

            "Think about the picture of the hundreds of bee colonies on the back of a tractor trailer. After three days on the road (bees don't poop inside the brood box), no flying allowed, they lift a giant insect net and out they fly. Bees have no way of making it back to their original colony with any level of certainty.

            "MS mentions the onset of CCD in 2006. From 2006 to the present the California Almond crop has doubled from 1 billion to 2 billion pounds and almond pollination in that time became the number 1 most profitable pollination crop for migratory beekeepers.

            "Anybody beekeeper will tell you:

            1) Bees, do not do well under stress. When stressed they die from disease, parasites.

            2) In a natural environment (one in which bees reproduce/swarm on their own) a 70% survival rate is really good.

            3) Beekeeping is about preventing bees to act naturally. For example, bees are bred specifically for low propolis production. Bees want to swarm but swarming is bad.

            "There is so much outrage over how chickens, pigs, and cows are raised commercially. Honeybees are also livestock and (in my opinion) are being worked to death, by commercial pollination operations that don't care about genetics, honey, or the environment. They address maladies with chemicals and antibiotics not IPM."

            2 Replies
            1. re: ninrn

              Yes, commercial beekeeping is the equivalent of a factory farm. And the big money these days is in pollination not honey, which leads people further down the road of treating them like little machines not animals. What's interesting about bee genetics is because of their short lifespans, their characteristics can change fairly rapidly. We have some who have hybridized with local feral bees, and now produce lots and lots of propolis, for example. I think I'm going to have to come up with a different name than beekeeping - for us, swarming is a good thing, since it means the hive is healthy and reproducing.

              1. re: patricium

                Thanks for both of your responses, patricium. I don't use honey, or any kind of sweeteners really, but have been wondering about the small-producer honey issue for a long time. I had no idea the almond industry was this devastating to bees, but I can't imagine any sort of large-scale agriculture that isn't devastating to some essential population of creatures somewhere. It's very difficult to eat conscientiously.

            2. My bees are very happy and are glad to give me a couple of hundred pounds of surplus honey in a good year. They do not feel exploited at all,they love me.
              They encourage me ,however, to exploit certain strains of yeast to manipulate the honey into legal beverages.My bad!