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The honey debate: there’s no room for exploitation

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Another day, another “vegan” defending honey. There seems to be a misguided argument floating around that honey isn’t really “that bad” in comparison to other forms of exploitation. Some are bold enough to even suggest that honey shouldn’t be a priority when we humans continue to eat meat and drink cow’s milk, but that’s as detrimental as arguing that wool is not as bad as fur. Never mind the fact that exploiting an animal is immoral regardless of the scale of that exploitation, the size of the animal being exploited also isn’t up for debate.

Honey is one of those products that people often incorrectly assume is vegan. Perhaps it’s not as obvious to some how harvesting honey could be harmful – many people assume honey bees aren’t sentient or that harvesting honey actually helps the bees survive. This couldn’t be farther from the truth, and besides, veganism is not about simply minimizing harm; it’s an ideology rooted in anti-oppression. It’s not just about the honey, it’s about the bees who make it and why humans believe we’re entitled to their livelihood at all.

To put it in its most simple form, honey isn’t vegan because honey bees are sentient animals and veganism acknowledges it’s wrong to exploit sentient animals. There’s a common misconception that no insects are sentient. The truth is that with some insects, it’s unclear their level of sentience. With bees however, it’s very clear that they have central nervous systems and are capable of feeling pain.

The theory that harvesting honey is good for bees, or at the very least isn’t harmful, has also been disproven. The process of producing honey requires intense labour. Bees gather nectar, mix it with their own enzymes and place it in wax cells within their hive. Bees then create a draft throughout the hive to eliminate moisture and thicken the nectar by flapping their wings in unison. When the honey is ripe, they can store it throughout the winter as a rich source of nutrients. Their labour is specifically dedicated in order to feed their colony – a colony in which humans are not included. When we steal their food and replace it with alternative sugary syrups (which are less nutritious and detrimental to the lives of bees), at the end of the day, we are taking something that is not ours and that we do not need.

Some also argue that without beekeeping, honey bees would die out. I find it hard to believe that the reason for honey farms is conservation, or that bees didn’t thrive until honey farms were created. Let’s say we were interested in honey bee conservation, would there not be a way to do this without capitalizing on the 2.77 million honey-producing colonies the USDA reports were hard at work in 2016?

Another argument is that we accidentally kill insects all the time so what’s the big deal with bees? There’s a major difference between accidental harm and intentional harm, as well as intentional exploitation. While it’s true that we might incidentally kill insects during our day to day lives, choosing to kill a bee on purpose would be morally wrong. And choosing to harm thousands of bees in order to make a profit from their labour would also be morally wrong.

Obviously we can’t communicate with bees but we can assume that if we could, bees would not give us permission to steal their food and sell it to humans, no matter how they were treated. There’s simply no room to accept any form of animal exploitation, as it removes the victims from the argument.

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