Is honey vegetarian?
Vegetarians do not eat products that are the result of slaughter. Since bees are not slaughtered, or in some cases harmed at all, in the production of honey, it is indeed considered vegetarian.
There are however some ethical concerns around the commercial production of honey, so it is not considered vegan by many. Please read on below to understand more about the production/harvesting process and to learn more about the ethics involved.
How is honey produced?
Honeybees harvest nectar from flowers and use it to produce honey, which they store in a hive.
Once enough honey has been produced by a hive beekeepers pacify the bees using smoke and then harvest it in the form of honeycomb. The honeycomb is then filtered before being preserved and distributed.
Since honey is widely used by humanity, it takes a lot of bees to match the demand.
Given those numbers, it takes around 1.2 million hives to satisfy the UK alone.
With numbers of that scale it is hard to imagine the vast majority of honey coming from anywhere but large scale commercial farms. And we all know the problems that are attached to industrial farming.
What exactly is the problem with industrial honey farming?
As with all industrial farming, profits and productivity are prioritised over the welfare of the beings on the farm.
In the case of bee farming this results in unethical practices such as:
- Clipping the queen’s wings
- Harvesting too much from a hive – leaving the bees little to feed on. Instead, they are given a sugar-water replacement which lacks essential nutrients.
- Stimulating out-of-season hive growth – again via sugar-water, resulting bees that are out of sync with their natural behaviour often resulting in high parasite levels.
- Selective breeding – narrowing the natural gene pool, making the hive more vulnerable.
So is it unethical to eat honey?
This is mostly down to the morals of the individual. A vegan would tell you that it is unethical and should be avoided. And they would have more than a single leg to stand on – just look at the points above.
On the other hand, as a vegetarian, you could argue that it is entirely possible to produce honey without any harm coming to the bees. If that is your stance then your aim should be to buy ethical, locally produced honey.
How can I find ethically produced honey?
As a starting point look for products that are labeled as either Fairtrade or organic. Products labeled this way will often be produced free of pesticides and the farmers are often paid a fair price for their produce – resulting in less pressure to produce things as efficiently as possible.
When you find a brand be sure to check out their site to see if they detail their production process or ethical guidelines.
You can also find local honey producers on websites such as the bbka. Buying locally reduces the carbon footprint if nothing else, and you could even give them a visit to see how they run their farm.