Veganism is a way of living that aims to minimize animal exploitation and cruelty. Therefore, vegans avoid eating animal products like meat, eggs, and dairy, as well as foods that are made from them.
Honey is a somewhat controversial food among vegans. Unlike overt animal foods like meat, eggs, and dairy, foods from insects aren’t always grouped into the vegan category. In fact, some vegans who eat an otherwise entirely plant-based diet may opt to include honey (generally raw, organic honey) in their diet.
That said, most vegans view honey as non-vegan and avoid eating it as it is the result of exploitation of bees and may harm bee health.
Honey results from the exploitation of bees
Most vegans see no difference between bee farming and other forms of animal farming.
To optimize profits, many commercial bee farmers employ practices that are unethical by vegan standards.
These include clipping the wings of queen bees to prevent them from fleeing the hive, replacing harvested honey with nutritionally inferior sugar syrups, and killing entire colonies to prevent the spread of disease, instead of giving them medicine (1).
Vegans opt to take a stand against these exploitative practices by avoiding honey and other bee products, including honeycomb, bee pollen, royal jelly, or propolis.
Honey farming may harm bee health
Many vegans avoid eating honey because commercial honey farming may also harm the health of bees.
Honey’s main function is to provide bees with carbohydrates and other essential nutrients like amino acids, antioxidants, and natural antibiotics.
Bees store honey and consume it over the winter months when honey production dwindles. It provides them with energy, helping them stay healthy and survive during cold weather (2).
To be sold, honey is taken away from bees and often replaced by sucrose or high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) (3, 4). These supplemental carbs are meant to prevent the bees from starving during the colder months and are sometimes given to bees in the spring to encourage colony growth and stimulate the flow of nectar. However, sucrose and HFCS don’t provide bees the many beneficial nutrients found in honey (4).
What’s more, there’s evidence that these sweeteners harm the bees’ immune systems and can cause genetic changes that reduce their defenses against pesticides. Both of these effects can ultimately damage a beehive (5, 6).