Bees produce honey as a food source to sustain the colony over winter. Some people believe that taking this food source exploits and causes harm to bees. Avoiding animal exploitation is a basic principle of veganism, so most vegans do not eat honey.

Honey is a natural product that many humans enjoy for its sweetness, nutritional value, and versatility. People use it in cooking, baking, traditional medicine, and cosmetics.

Apiculture, or beekeeping, is the practice of maintaining honey bees and hives to produce beeswax, honey, or other bee-related products.

Vegans avoid consuming or using products that harm or exploit animals, including meat, fish, dairy foods, eggs, leather, shellac, silk, or products tested on animals. Many vegans consider beekeeping exploitative, so they avoid eating and using honey.

This article outlines the reasons some people think honey is acceptable in a vegan lifestyle and why many vegans avoid using honey. We also suggest some vegan alternatives to honey.

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Bees collect nectar from flowers to make honey. Natural enzymes in bee saliva break down the nectar into fructose and glucose, which bees store in honeycombs to feed the hive over winter. Constant fanning from bees’ wings evaporates excess water content to leave thick, sticky honey.

Beekeepers extract honey from the hive and then strain it to remove wax and other particles. This leaves raw honey. Often, raw honey is intensely heated or pasteurized to remove pathogens. The result is processed honey.

Learn more about raw vs. processed honey here.

People may think honey is acceptable in a vegan lifestyle due to several beliefs, including:

They believe bees are not animals

Some people think vegans avoid simply eating meat, fish, and products derived from animals.

However, the vegan philosophy extends to avoiding any product or practice that exploits animals — including insects — for the benefit of humans.

They believe more bees are good for the environment

Bees and other pollinators — such as wasps, beetles, and flies — are essential for pollinating plants.

Without pollinators, plants cannot produce flowers, fruits, and seeds. Therefore, it may seem logical that the more bees there are, the better it is for the natural environment. While this is partly true, large, industrial-scale honeybee colonies tend to monopolize food sources and crowd out other pollinators, reducing ecosystem diversity.

They believe that bees overproduce honey

Another reason some vegans use honey is that they believe bees produce more honey than they actually need. So, removing much of the honey from hives does not deprive bees of their food source.

However, this may be a simplistic view. According to the Natural Beekeeping Trust in the United Kingdom, honeybees do not overproduce honey. Bee colonies store honey to keep the hive warm during winter and use it as an energy source during the months when there is little to forage.

Learn more about vegan diets here.

Reasons for some vegans not eating or using honey products include:

They believe honey production exploits bees

Most honey is produced on an industrial scale by companies that manage vast colonies of honeybees. To maximize profit, they employ practices that some people consider exploitative.

These practices include:

  • clipping the wings of queen bees to prevent them from leaving the colony
  • using pesticides and antibiotics to control pests and pathogens
  • feeding bees nutritionally inferior sugar syrup to replace their lost honey

They believe honey production harms ecosystems

Large-scale beekeeping can perpetuate the spread of infections among pollinators. This may have contributed to the decline in pollinator species over the last 50 years.

Honey producers often transport bee colonies long distances to pollinate crops when they are in flower. Over several months, millions of farmed bees mix with wild pollinators, increasing the likelihood of spreading parasites and infections.

Another impact of bees foraging from single crops is that they do not get diverse nutrients, which impairs their health. They may also have exposure to particular agrochemicals that cause them more harm.

There are many plant-based vegan alternatives to honey. They include:

  • maple syrup
  • date syrup
  • molasses
  • agave nectar
  • coconut nectar
  • rice syrup
  • barley malt syrup
  • golden syrup

Vegans may want to check product labels carefully as some syrups contain animal fats or animal-derived defoaming agents.

Learn more about plant-based diets here.

Most vegans choose not to consume honey or use honey-based products as they believe honey production exploits bees.

However, some people believe raising honeybees is ethical as they help pollinate plants. The counterargument is that the ratio of honeybees to other pollinators is unbalanced and may contribute to a decline in pollinator diversity.

Large-scale honey producers employ practices that many vegans consider unethical, such as taking the honey bees’ nectar and replacing it with sugar syrup with low nutritional value.

If people following a vegan lifestyle would like the sweet taste and sticky consistency of honey, there are several plant-based alternatives, such as agave nectar and maple syrup.