Honey: Ethical Considerations & Vegan Alternatives

How and why to avoid honey
Last Updated: September 8, 2018

Honey is produced by bees, who gather nectar from flowers, partially digest it, and then regurgitate it once back in their hives. Worker bees then seal it into beeswax honeycomb, much of it for the purpose of storing food to enable the hive to survive through the winter.

Honey is by definition not vegan, since it a bee product, and bees are animals. Here’s a nuanced article about how the ethical issues surrounding this sweetener fit into the broader concept of vegan living.

Several companies make terrific vegan alternatives:

Rather than buy a product that mimics the flavors of honey you might prefer maple syrup, which delivers comparable sweetness while offering (subjectively, anyway) a more interesting flavor. Agave syrup is another good substitute, although its extremely high fructose content gives it a sky-high glycemic index. For more information about sweeteners, check out our sugar page.

Reasons to Avoid Honey:

Whether not you’re vegan, there are a number of compelling reason to choose alternative sweeteners.

  • Most honey from large-scale producers comes from hives treated with antibiotics.
  • Beekeepers often respond to disease outbreaks by burning their hives—killing all bees inside.
  • A large-scale study published in Science found that 75 percent of samples taken worldwide were contaminated with insecticides.
  • It’s a raw deal to the bees to steal their food and replace it with industrially-processed corn syrup, which is what most commercial beekeepers do.
  • You may not be eating what you think you’re eating; fraud and mislabeling is rampant in the industry. Honey is the world’s third-most adulterated food product, after milk and olive oil.
  • The act of harvesting from commercial hives inevitably crushes or injures some of the bees.
  • Much of the world’s honey comes from bees that pollinated mono-cultured crops, and is therefore prone to contamination by pesticides and herbicides.

With all these issues considered, even if you’re not vegan it makes sense to choose a vegan sweetener. A top-quality brand of organic unrefined sugar actually costs less than most brands of honey. If you are seeking a liquid sweetener, maple syrup, agave nectar, or a vegan honey alternative are all excellent choices.