I am opposed to any and all exploitation of bees. As an ethical vegan, I believe that the exploitation, manipulation, harm, and murder of animals in the industrialized world is morally unjustifiable.
Bees are insects and insects are animals, so I extend the same ethical consideration to them that I do vertebrates and other sentient beings throughout the animal kingdom. Despite common belief, many invertebrates including insects have been found to share the criteria for the ability to feel and interpret pain. Bees in particular are very complex beings that have been shown to have what appear to be moods, a language of sorts, impressive cognitive skills, and, yes, even signs of actual pain rather than just mere basic nociception.
What most people, even some people who consider themselves vegan, aren’t aware of is just how harmful and brutal the commercial sourcing of honey from bees actually is and how important honey is to the bees who make it. The reality is that bees create honey for two reasons: to feed their larvae and to keep them going during colder seasons. There is no such thing as “extra” honey and it is actually incredibly labor-intensive for a colony to even create it: for one pound of honey, about two million flowers must be tapped; for one jar of honey, a hive will travel the equivalent of three times around the planet; a single bee only creates a twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in their lifetime; a single hive will only create sixty-six pounds of it in a year (which is crazier when you note that Americans alone ate 450 million pounds of honey just in 2013).
Sourcing honey from bees is by no means peaceful and is actually more exploitative and intrusive than you can probably even begin to imagine. Commercial beekeepers—even the ones that consider themselves “local”, “all-natural”, or “organic”—use the labor of these creatures for profit, nothing more and nothing less, and there is simply no way to get it without being destructive, unfair, and unsustainable. Beekeepers replace the honey they steal with corn syrup. Bees are stunned with “smokers” (sometimes literally just cigars) that cause them to believe their hive is on fire so they won’t be as aggressive. Queen bees are artificially inseminated. Drones are killed just to have their sperm extracted. Queens are actually selectively bred and sold around the world to beekeepers just so they don’t have to deal with the natural process of queens selecting and starting a new colony. "Packages" of bee colonies are transported and delivered around the country through all sorts of weather conditions so beekeepers can profit all year round, resulting in the spread of a parasitic mite that exclusively preys on and subsequently destroys honeybee colonies; if this isn’t the problem, lack of food and unstable weather can also kill off entire hives. In the end, what are basically factory farms for bees kill millions while mechanically extracting boxed hives of their honey.
What makes bees a particularly important ethical and environmental issue is that they are essential to our ability to survive on this planet: Bees pollinate a plethora of different crops, without which we would die. Albert Einstein even allegedly said that, “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live." Regardless of who actually said this, they’re right and we’re already seeing the consequences firsthand. The vast majority of your produce section would literally not exist if bees weren’t around. Everyone knows about colony collapse disorder and the fact that large portions of the bee population are disappearing, but many don’t realize why this is happening and how commercial beekeeping is connected. Beekeeping on any scale only benefits those trying to turn a profit off of the labor of this species. Between transport, selective breeding, taking colonies out of their natural environments, and placing many of these bees near commercial crops that are sprayed with toxic insecticides, beekeeping and the extraction of honey plays a direct role in the demise of the bee.
The fact alone that we farm vomit and wax from the single most important animal on the planet just for money and the fleeting pleasure of taste is totally insane. This is both an ethical and environmental issue; really, it’s life or death for us.
For more information, check out the documentary More Than Honey, which is like the Earthlings of the honey and bee topic. It is the most informative, fair, graphic, concise, and stunningly shot piece on the subject I’ve yet to see and is available to watch instantly on Netflix or be torrented. For quick reading, the most concise page on it continues to be this.
*disdainful white parent voice* kids these days and their…inability to sit quietly and cooperate as a cog in the gas guzzling white supremacist capitalist ableist heteropatriarchal machine we’ve designed for them…and their rap songs