I wouldn’t say that I see the world through gray-colored glasses, or that my glass is often half-empty. I’m happy more days than I’m not. But I am also pretty realistic, and I knew it would happen sooner than later – after enjoying a month or two of sweet, encouraging e-mails from old friends and new, supporting my recent blogging ways, I got some hate mail in my inbox this morning.
The message was from a woman who is a vegan, and she wasted no words in letting me know that Honeydew and I are the “spawn of Lucifer himself,” “enslaving” millions of bees, “subjecting” them to cross-country travel, “stealing” their honey, and then advertising our “devilish” ways through this blog, encouraging others to so “sin.” Veganism, as defined by the Vegan Society, is “promoting ways of living free from animal products for the benefit of people, animals, and the environment.” I never really thought that die hard Christians could be vegan, since the Bible is filled with tales of fish eating and what not, but apparently this woman is both born-again and animal-product-free. Prior to checking my e-mail this morning, I also never really thought of honey and beeswax products as being non-vegan, though upon post-hate-mail reflection, clearly they are both animal byproducts.
In response to this woman, who a part of me admires for her dedication to her causes, and a part of me loathes, for furthering the image that God fearing women are crazed fools not to be listened to, I am posting another beekeeper’s response, below, to the is-honey-vegan question, which I understand to be a hotly debated topic amongst vegans, and by no means a settled issue.
Slate Magazine also explores this topic in a hilarious article entitled: The Great Vegan Honey Debate – Is Honey the Dairy of the Insect World? Worth a read.
Graham and Annie Law are hobby beekeepers over the Big Pond, in England. In researching veganism and The Honey Debate, I stumbled across a document apparently put together by the Vegan Society, decrying the consumption of honey by vegans and beekeepers in general, that Graham and Annie posted a thoughtful response to. Overall, their response is well crafted, and I am reposting it here. Perhaps Ms. Hate Mail Writer will read it, and reflect, and write to me again. You can find Graham and Annie on the internets here and this specific piece here.
I have reproduced Graham and Annie’s response in its entirety:
This Document is taken from The Vegan Society web site (www.vegansociety.com) and is reproduced here to allow me to comment of this rather distorted view of the beekeepers world.
Bees are manipulated worldwide to produce many products for human use: honey, beeswax, propolis, bee pollen, royal jelly and venom. They are intelligent insects with a complex communication system.
Because bees are seen flying free, they are also often considered free of the usual cruelties of the animal farming industry. However bees undergo treatments similar to those endured by other farmed animals. They go through routine examination and handling, artificial feeding regimes, drug and pesticide treatment, genetic manipulation, artificial insemination, transportation (by air, rail and road) and slaughter.
- Beekeeper: Deliberately emotive language…read on…
Queen for a Year or Two
Queen bees are artificially inseminated with sperm obtained from decapitated bees. Queens are systematically slaughtered every two years because over time their egg producing abilities decline so their whole hive becomes unproductive and uneconomic. InIsrael they are killed and re-queened every year.
- Beekeeper: Virtually no hobby beekeepers use AI, I have also never heard of sperm from decapitated bees. “Slaughtering” seems a tad emotive…. It’s a bee not an intertribal African massacre; get some sense of priority please. Good queens are cherished and often kept until the end of their natural lives as their offspring daughter queens inherit their desirable characteristics.
When beekeepers manipulate combs many bees are crushed and killed. Hives have smoke puffed into them to calm bees down and make them easier to handle. Special excluders or devices that violate the bees’ space are attached to hives to collect bee products from bees as they enter hives. Bees are separated from their hives by being shaken vigorously or jetted out with powerful streams of air. They may have their legs and wings clipped off. Clipping the wings of queen bees prevents them from swarming (flying off!).
Swarming is the natural way for reproduction, increase and survival of the species, at least in the wild. However, beekeepers are constantly trying to prevent this natural phenomenon and will use artificial pheromones, wing clipping and cage queens to keep their colony under control.
- Beekeeper: Beekeepers go to great lengths to avoid crushing bees, the pheromones released causes other bees to get stressed and potentially aggressive. “ Special devices” sounds like torture, the only ‘device’ used by hobby beekeepers in this respect is a queen excluder which causes no stress whatsoever it simply keeps the egg laying queen separate from the upper honey storage area and prevents loss of the queens brood when honey is removed. Bees are not normally ‘separated’ from their hives at all they are shaken gently on a comb by comb basis whilst inspecting the bees, typically when you need to check that they are not suffering from any disease. Clipping wings is like cutting finger nails it is dead tissue and is not a necessity but can be uses to reduce to number of visits and disturbance to the bees when watching out for swarming. “Beekeepers are constantly trying to prevent this natural phenomenon” wrong, this is a seasonal occurrence usually occurring in northern Europe in May-July. Swarming bees cause loss of honey, loss of bees and as bees can no longer survive without a beekeeper then such lost bees are doomed to a nasty death.
Swarm control is part of beekeeping but it is futile to ‘make’ bees do anything, they will do their thing even if that means abandoning hive. Beekeepers need to work WITH their bees and good swarm prevention is fundamentally the art of letting the bees ‘think’ they have swarmed and then they are happy.
Beekeepers feed artificial pollen substitutes and white sugar syrup to colonies, often to replace the honey that has been removed. If these practices are carried out over long periods of time they lower hive productivity and lifespan. Colonies fed on their natural food – honey and pollen – result in larger emerging bees and more vigorous bees.
- Beekeeper: Actually it has been shown that the natural crystallization that occurs in many honey’s stored in comb can cause the bees stress and dysentery, due to the need to go out and fetch water to dissolve the crystals during the cold winter weather. Sugar syrup is purer in that sense as it is stable and a reliable source of energy, the bees thrive on it as it contains the correct balance of carbohydrate and water rather than the hit and miss condition of solidified ‘natural’ honey.
Beekeepers have become dependent on the use of synthetic pesticides and antibiotics to combat pests, and this has led to problems of toxicological hazards to beekeepers and bees, and risks of honey contamination.
- Beekeeper: This I believe is based on an occurrence in China where human antibiotics were found in honey. This was resolved some time ago and it is a gross distortion to insinuate that this is a worldwide problem. Varroa (bee parasite) has been traditionally treated with a form of pesticides known as ‘pyrethroids’ in the autumn when there is little nectar source available. This can be used when there is nectar available but beekeepers use good practice and limit its use to the non flowering months. Without such intervention the bees die within 2-3 years. Incidentally beekeepers are moving to IPM techniques due to pyrethroid resistance but so called ‘natural’ treatments such as Thymol are statistically many hundreds of times more toxic to bees than pyrethroids.
Bees are bought and sold worldwide. Transportation means bees may suffer stress, suffocation, overheating or cold. Many die entombed in their packaged coffins. Exotic bees are transported to strange countries and causing problems in the natural environment by spreading disease. They are subsequently treated as feral and nests are destroyed by pouring petrol in hives or bees killed by spraying with liquid soap.
- Beekeeper: “entombed in coffins”- “strange countries” …please! The hobby beekeeper usually gets their bees locally and is in no position to ship bees all over the world. Queen bees and small colonies can be sent by post with attendant worker bees to look after the queen. It is in no ones interest to cause harm to these wonderful insects and queens are treated as royalty by the awaiting beekeeper.
In a bid to improve the economics of honey production in South America in the 1950s the government ordered research into the use of the African honeybee. These bees are the most prolific honey producers in the world. Unfortunately, they are also extremely aggressive. All the native bees of South America were stingless but only three species made honey and certainly not in large quantities. Unfortunately, the African honeybees escaped. Thousands of hives of Africanised bees are now destroyed each year in the USA because they have been breeding with and destroying the more docile European honeybees, and they have stung and killed over 600 people.
- Beekeeper: Agreed but let’s get it in context. More people in the same area over the same period have died from dog bites and the beekeepers in South America now prefer their productive bees over their predecessors. It has also hugely boosted income to poor parts of this continent.
In many countries bees’ services are bought for pollination purposes resulting in the bees (and their hives) being transported hundreds or thousands of miles. The food industry is now looking to artificially managed honeybees to provide to pollinate crops because wild bees and other insects (who would naturally pollinate crops) have been and are being destroyed by housing development, industrial pollution, pesticide poisoning, intensive farming practices, destruction of hedgerows, etc. The use of honeybees for pollination is now big business especially in places like New Zealand and America. However, even in the UKcommercial beekeepers move hives (to find sources of nectar for honey production, and for pollination). Pollination fees are a very important component of the commercial beekeepers income. Commercially reared bumblebee colonies are now also extensively used to pollinate some glasshouse crops, particularly tomatoes.
- Beekeeper: Agreed but did you know that the bees shipped ‘thousands’ of miles only by commercial USA beekeepers are not locked in to boxes, the hive entrances are left open and given frequent rest stops and water. Stressed bees are no good at all for pollination or honey gathering and they are assessed for health and strength before use by the pollination seeker and any commercial pollinating beekeeper will not last long without caring for his bees.
Bees are also victims of vivisection and a vast number of experiments are carried out worldwide on these creatures. Unfortunately their generally quiet nature makes the honeybee easily manipulated and it has been claimed that they make an ideal laboratory animal. Many experiments are conducted for research and development into colonies that will produce more honey and thus make more money. In Japan they have irradiated bees to make their sting ineffective in an effort to achieve a ‘stingless’ bee for easier handling and in Australia trials are being undertaken on a protein in bee venom to treat cancer.
- Beekeeper: As the highest form of insect life that can demonstrate advanced communication and behave as a hyper organism, it is no surprise that they are a favorite candidate for research. This is hardly the fault of the beekeeper; it is man’s natural curiosity.
Honey and other bee products are widely used in folk medicine. However, people with asthma or allergies have been strongly recommended not to take honey or royal jelly after several deaths and severe illnesses. Honey is also not suitable for children under twelve months of age because of the risk of botulism. Bees have been seen drinking from sewage plants and have been known to collect tar, adhesives and paint instead of propolis. Moreover, a nutritional comparison shows that demerara sugar is higher in minerals, such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, copper and chlorine. The somewhat dubious health benefits of bee products do not warrant the use and abuse of honeybees. There are many other non-animal alternative medicines available.
- Beekeeper: Well this is honey stuff sure sound’s dangerous to me, and as for demerara sugar might as well shoot yourself than eat it. Honey is the model of healthy food and has rightly been so for thousands of years, picking up on obscure documented or rumored incidents and suggesting that they are frequent of even normal is grossly unfair.
The reason that botulism is a risk is that the digestive system of babies is under developed, and a botulism spore that would harmless pass through older children and adults could case illness in a baby.
Incidentally you can NOT feed demerara sugar to bees it gives them dysentery as it is actually the dregs of the sugar refinery industry. But then such facts spoil a good story.
Basic Bee Info
The most popular bee for honey production is the European Apis mellifera. In common with all insects it has a brain and several smaller ganglia (sub-brains) running through its body. In proportion to its size, the brain of the bee is very large. The ganglia have nerve fibres connecting them with the sensory endings on the outer layer of the insect. Other fibres carry nervous impulses from the ganglia to the muscles and internal organs, regulating their action.
On average a colony comprises 42,000-60,000 bees and can survive up to 20 years. However, the lifespan of individual bees is very short. Within the hive there are three types of bee: the worker, the drone and the queen. The worker carries out most types of jobs necessary to keep the colony ticking over including cleaning, feeding larvae, manipulating the wax, processing the honey and foraging or defending the colony. Foraging honeybees communicate food sources to fellow foragers by means of the famous “waggle dance” which involves an intricate series of circles and movements. After the first 20 days or so of its life it acts as a forager, or flying bee, collecting nectar and pollen. The life of the worker lasts about 30 to 35 days. As far as is known the drone’s only function is to mate with the queen bee, after which it dies. Under wild conditions the queen lives for five years or so. She has two main functions in life: to mate and lay eggs. She is a very important part of the colony because she passes on her characteristics and controls its size by the number of eggs she produces.
- Beekeeper: Close… bee colonies are typically well below 40,000, 60,000 is just fisherman’s tales. Wild (feral) colonies have been known to last for longer than 20 years some have been in church towers for generations. Varroa has put an end to this and only beekeepers can now keep bees alive and in itself makes beekeeping a worthwhile pastime.
The rest of this document is more factual than contentious…I need a drink J …
The honeybee will fly about 800km in her working life and produce just half a teaspoon of honey. A queen may produce half a million eggs in her natural lifespan. However, she will only be allowed to live 2 years in the commercial world producing 150,000 eggs annually during this time. In calm conditions the foraging bee will travel at 24 km per hour and up to 40 km for short periods of time and work for 7 – 10 hours a day.
Some 300,000 tonnes of honey are traded internationally every year, and about four times this much is actually produced. The five major honey producers in the world are the former USSR, China, USA, Mexico, and Turkey.
Around 22,000 million tonnes of honey is consumed in the UK each year most of which (just over 2 million tonnes) is imported from New Zealand. There are around 40,000 beekeepers in the UK but probably only 320 are semi-commercial or commercial enterprises.
Pre-digested food made by bees from nectar. The bees collect the nectar from flowers and store it in their primary or honey stomach. Here it is partially digested and converted into the substance we call honey. It is a food source of the bee and is stored in the hive for the lean winter months. The metabolism of honey by the bee creates heat, which maintains the temperature of the hive at 17-34 degrees C. The colony requires approximately 200 lbs of honey a year to survive. It is used by humans as a food, as a medicine and in cosmetics and toiletries.
Secreted from eight small wax glands underneath the abdomen of the bee. The soft wax pours into eight pockets beneath the glands where it solidifies. It is then removed and passed to the mouth where it is worked into hexagonal cells called combs, which are used to form the basic structure of the hive. It is used in cosmetics, toiletries, pharmaceuticals, polishes and candles.
A resinous substance gathered by bees from trees. It is used to fill holes, and varnish and strengthen the hive. Bees also use it as a natural antibiotic, antiviral and antifungal agent. It is gathered by humans by either scraping it off the hive or collecting it on specially made frames. It is used as a medicine and food supplement. It is sometimes called ‘bee glue’.
Collected from flowers and brought back to the hive as a load on the hind legs. It is a food source for the bee and is stored in the hive. A colony requires approximately 60lbs of pollen per year to survive. The collection of pollen involves fitting special traps to the hive. These scrape it off and are just big enough to allow the bee through. Bee pollen is used as a food supplement.
This creamy-white sticky fluid is a blend of two secretions from the glands of the worker bees. It is the sole source of nourishment for the queen bee throughout her life. Since royal jelly enables the bee to become a queen, some people believe they can recapture their lost youth by eating it. China, where cost-saving techniques have been devised for gathering it, is a major exporter of royal jelly. Details of methods of collection are a closely guarded secret. It is sometimes called ‘bee milk’.
The sting of the bee. Its collection involves the stretching of an electrically-charged membrane in front of the hive. When the bees fly into it they receive an electric shock and sting the membrane, thus depositing the venom. Venom is prized by some for its supposed medicinal qualities.
Reading this in its entirety wore me out. Let’s end on a happy note with a pretty bee picture I took in California last month:
That is one of our lovely ladies having the time of her life setting, or pollinating, an almond blossom. I wonder if vegans eat almonds?
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