Can Honey Be Cruelty-Free?

January

27

by Becky // in Food

If you’re on the hunt for cruelty-free products, you may be wondering if honey can be cruelty-free. While honey does come from bees and, therefore, is not vegan, you may still want to consume it for the health benefits.

However, if you’re only interested in using humane products, you’ll want to know if honey can be considered cruelty-free.

Can Honey Be Cruelty-Free?

Honey can be considered cruelty-free if the beekeeper allows the bees to live in their natural state. This means that the bees are allowed to swarm and forage naturally, feed off their own honey through the winter months, and produce their own queen.

To determine if honey can be cruelty-free, you must know how the bees are treated that make that honey. There are a lot of questions to ask when it comes to finding honey that is indeed cruelty-free.

Read on for tips to make the process of finding cruelty-free honey easier.

What Makes Honey Cruelty-Free?

A bee sitting on top of a honey comb

When it comes to determining if a product is cruelty-free, the factors to consider are quite similar for a variety of products. This includes food, beauty, and personal care products. Let’s look at a few while focusing specifically on how it relates to honey.

How are the Bees Treated?

When it comes to honey, you need to know if the bees are given proper food and shelter. Just like any other living being, they need to be allowed to live in their natural state for their product to be considered cruelty-free.

If the bees are not given the proper nourishment or are stressed by their living conditions, the resulting product would not qualify as cruelty-free.

Do the Bees Have Proper Food?

Bees must be allowed to subsist on their natural diet of honey to thrive. Bees in a temperate climate should be allowed to forage freely early in the spring so they can collect enough honey to get them through the winter.

Beekeepers should hold off on collecting honey until after the winter so the bees will have enough sustenance. In some cases, commercial beekeepers start collecting the honey in the fall and don’t leave enough for the bees in the hive to last the winter.

Do the Bees Have Proper Shelter?

They need to have an appropriate-sized hive that maintains a temperature of 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (32-35 degrees Celsius). If the bees live in a temperate climate, they should have a nest provided for them that is large enough and well-insulated. In a more tropical climate, the bees don’t need a nest created for them as they won’t have to deal with cold winter temperatures.

Are the Bees Allowed to Swarm?

A swarm of bees may sound a bit scary to anyone who has ever been stung by a bee, but in this case, the situation is not quite like what it sounds. When honeybees swarm, it’s to deal with overcrowding issues by splitting in two and developing a new colony.

The process of swarming involves the hive’s queen taking off with half of the worker population. A new queen then stays in the hive with the remaining half of the worker bees.

The honey bee swarm moves on to find a new location to nest. They usually find places to rest along the way, possibly on shrubs or tree branches. The whole process typically takes up to a few days. If you come across a swarm of honeybees, don’t be alarmed. They have a low incentive to sting unless provoked.

Beekeepers tend not to like it when their bees swarm because they lose half of the workforce from their hive. This affects the honey production over the following weeks. Commercial beekeepers attempt to prevent this natural swarming process by clipping the queen’s wings so she can not leave her hive! This is certainly not aligned with being cruelty-free.

Suppose a beekeeper wants to be mindful of the natural process of swarming but doesn’t want to lose half of their bees and resulting honey production. In this case, they can opt to set up swarm traps like this reusable, environmentally friendly trap. This does not stop the bees from swarming as nature intended. However, it does try to lure them into making their new home at the beekeeper’s location of choice.

Are the Bees Allowed to Produce Their Own Queen?

Producing a queen starts from the moment of birth when a young larva is fed a diet of “royal jelly” by the worker bees, rather than the standard honey fed to the worker larvae. This royal jelly is richer than the honey, enabling the young larva to grow into a fertile queen bee.

This is important because the queen bee is the only fertile female in the hive and she is the only one capable of laying eggs. She is essential for keeping the population going!

Some beekeepers interfere with this process by artificially inseminating the queen, through a painful process involving a syringe, and harvesting the eggs. They create multiple queens to quickly increase their bee population, which throws the course of nature off amongst the bee colony.

With concerns about the shrinking bee population in the world, you may think this process would be helpful since it results in more bees. 

However, as it goes against the nature of the honeybees, it produces harmful consequences, such as:

  • A negative impact on the gene pool;
  • Descendants that are much more prone to illness; and
  • A larger, but weaker population of bees.

Where Can I Find Cruelty-Free Honey?

Cruelty free honey on the table

Buy From Small, Local Farms

To find the most ethical honey available, seek out small, local farms. They are more likely to practice cruelty-free beekeeping as they do not feel the pressure to produce as large a quantity of honey as the larger commercial farms. Their honey tends to come in smaller batches, since they allow the bees to produce it naturally without much human interference. 

Buy From Farmer’s Markets

Honey that is sold at a farmer’s market is most likely coming from a small, local farm that practices ethical beekeeping.

Buy Ethical Honey Online

While any type of honey can be purchased online, cruelty-free or not, you can empower yourself by knowing what to look for on the product labels and in the descriptions.

There are a few key words that, while not always guaranteeing they are cruelty-free, do increase the likelihood of it being ethically sourced honey:

  • Raw
  • Unfiltered
  • Organic
  • Biodynamic 

Questions to Ask a Beekeeper or Farm

Beekeeper with bees

The benefit of purchasing honey directly from a farm or at a farmer’s market is that you can ask questions to determine if the honey you are buying is cruelty-free.

If you have the opportunity to speak with someone directly about the origins of the honey you are considering purchasing, here are some questions to ask:

  • What time of year is the honey harvested? The spring would be most humane as it allows the bees to have enough honey to get themselves through the winter.
  • Are the bees allowed to produce their own queens? You want honey from a beekeeper who does not interfere with this natural process.
  • What materials are used for the hives? Ideally, the bees should have hives made from natural materials such as wood.
  • Are the bees rented out to other farms? This creates more stress on the bees.
  • Are the queen’s wings clipped? This prevents the natural process of swarming.

Recommendations for Cruelty-Free Honey

If you’d like some suggestions for cruelty-free brands of honey, check out this list that ranks the ethical and environmental record of 28 honey brands.

As you can see, honey can be considered cruelty-free as long as the beekeepers adhere to specific standards regarding the bees’ quality of life. They must allow their bees to live in the most natural state possible without interference with their food supply, queen selection process, or swarming ritual.

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