A vegan is a person who lives without exploiting animals, whether for food, clothing, self-care or any other activity. On the food side, it therefore consumes neither meat, fish, shellfish, dairy products, eggs, leather … and no honey either !
The issues surrounding honey production are often overlooked. Many people do not understand why vegans won’t consume it when its production does not seem to harm bees. Do not panic, we’ll explain everything to you !
Honey is the only food reserve for bees
Bees are a crucial element in the process of pollinating flowers. If they were to disappear, you could say goodbye to carrots or apples … or even much of what you eat : 35% of the food we eat depends directly on bees. Bees collect nectar, which is a sweet liquid found in flowers. They then take it back to the hive, transform it into honey and store it for food in winter.
It is their only food reserve. It contains essential nutrients for their survival during winter. Harvesting honey means confiscating food from bees. To collect honey, it is necessary to drive them out of their hive : they seek to defend their production, even if it means dying. When a bee stings, its stinger tears from its body as does its venom gland, which causes its death. During the harvest, many bees die while trying to defend their honey from beekeepers.
When they harvest honey from the hive, beekeepers replace it with HFCS, or high fructose corn syrup, sugar-rich substitutes. They are made up of 50% glucose and 50% fructose, a composition close to that of white sugar. They’re harmful to bees because they do not contain the nutrients, fats and vitamins naturally found in honey and often contain GMOs and pesticides.
Researchers are also suspecting HFCS to be the cause of the decline in the world’s bee population. When heated, these syrups release a compound toxic to bees, HMF. This is therefore a path that could explain the increase in bees mortality, but it is not the only one : certain pesticides used in crops, the neonicotinoids, are real killers of bees. Their harmfulness to bees has been proven by scientific studies.
Despite a conflict on the subject in the government, it seems that neonicotinoid pesticides will be banned in September 2018. The sale of these products, however, increased by 4% in France between 2013 and 2015, despite the moratorium imposed by the European Union on several of them. In France, since 1995, 300,000 hives have perished each year. At the same time, domestic honey production also fell by 70%. ‘
Practices that are not respectful of bees
Some beekeepers adopt practices that are respectful of bees, but others do not favor animal welfare at all. To harvest honey, for example, you have to use the smoking technique. The smoke triggers stress in the bees, which causes them to leave the hive. In the process, they can find themselves paralyzed or even crushed. When the bees are smoked, they no longer have attack reflexes and the beekeeper sometimes takes the opportunity to put a new queen in the hive, if he believes that the current queen is not profitable enough.
This is the turn over method. The former queen is then killed. Some beekeepers will also cut the queen’s wings so that she does not leave the hive. Finally, sometimes, the profit outweighs the survival of the bees : after the harvest, the hives that produced the least honey are destroyed It is cheaper to import new colonies in Spring … The bees are therefore killed simply because they do not save money and become expensive.
A product that is often industrial and misleading
Studies conducted on honey sold in the supermarket have established that a large number of them are fraudulent. Many of the honeys sold at low prices are made from imported honey blends, mostly from China. Moreover, a fraudulent practice is very common in China : the addition of sugar syrup in honey.
In the European Union, honey means a product from the hive, without any addition or withdrawal, which makes the addition of sugar fraudulent. Since 2007, honey exports from Asia have increased by 196% while the number of hives has increased by only 13% … This practice is therefore extremely common. The honeys from different origins are then mixed to ensure a stable taste and color of the product, then sold to the supermarket.
The cheaper the honey, the higher the probability that it will be fraudulent. According to tests carried out by the European Union, 32% of the honeys analyzed presented suspected or proven non-compliance with the criteria laid down by law.
Many alternatives to honey
It is rather easy to replace honey: vegetable and natural substitutes exist, just as delicious ! Agave syrup, for example, has a much higher sweetening power than honey. We have a weakness for maple syrup : it has a very special and comforting flavor that goes well with both sweet and savory.
To play it classic, we pour it over pancakes, and for a little exoticism, we cook it in sauce for salads and buddha bowl, with a little peanut butter, or we pour it in our Asian dishes for a sweet and savory side not unpleasant !
To go further :
A qui profite le miel ?, Data Gueule (English subtiles available)
The Honey Industry, The Vegan Society
Why Vegans Don’t Eat Honey, The Guardian
Emma and Minuit sur Terre’s team