How About Honey?

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Each year honey industry kills thousands of bees. Honey producers excuse their actions with claims that bees are "simple" forms of life, but consumers are beginning to question the unnecessary killing of even tiny, sometimes complex, and certainly feeling, creatures like these.

In the honey industry, the buzz word is profit. Like factory farmers, many beekeepers take inhumane steps to ensure personal safety and reach production quotas. It is not unusual for larger honey producers to cut off the wings of the queen bee so that she cannot leave the colony, or to have her artificially inseminated on a bee-sized version of the factory farm "rape rack."1 When the keeper wants to move a queen to a new colony, she is carried with "bodyguard" bees, all of whom - if they survive transport - will be killed by bees in the new colony.

Large commercial operations also may take all the honey instead of leaving the 60 pounds or so that bees need to get through the winter. They replace the rich honey with a cheap sugar substitute that is not as fortifying or tasty. In colder areas, if the keepers consider it too costly to keep the bees alive through the winter, they will destroy the hives by pouring gasoline on them, killing most of the bees with the fumes, and setting them on fire. Other times, keepers, who feel that lost bees are easily replaced, allow them to die when trees are sprayed with insecticide. Bees are often killed, or their wings and legs torn off, by haphazard handling.

To produce a pound of honey, bees must get pollen from 2 million flowers and must fly more than 55,000 miles.2 Honeybees returning to the hive from a pollen-seeking expedition "dance" in figure eights to "map out" a route for other bees to follow. These dances "encode information about the distance and direction of a target that can be miles away from the nest," said Thomas D. Seeley of Cornell University.3

According to the Cook-DuPage Beekeepers' Association, humans have been using honey since about 15,000 B.C., but it wasn't until the 20th century that people turned bees into factory-farmed animals. In 1987, the honey "crop" netted $115.4 million.4 Luckily, many sweeteners are made without killing bees: Rice syrup, molasses, sorghum, barley malt, maple syrup, and dried fruit or fruit concentrates can replace honey in recipes.5 Use these substitutes to keep your diet bee-free.

  1. Ling, Arthur, "Ain't So Sweet: The Other Side of Honey," The Vegan, Spring 1988, pp. 12-13.
  2. Spiers, Wally, Belleville News-Democrat, Sept. 11, 1988.
  3. Weiss, Rick, "New Dancer in the Hive," Science News, Oct. 28, 1989, p. 282.
  4. Spiers, op. cit.
  5. Moran, Victoria, "Leaving the Land of Milk and Honey," The Animals' Agenda, March 1988, p. 48.

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