A Closer Look: Bee Ethics


After all this talk about delicious (and not so delicious) honey I think it is time now we asks ourselves some ethical questions. In my previous posts I have shown you inventive ways to obtain honey from beehives and what kinds of things we can do with honey.

But under all these actions hides the underlying assumption that it is a given that we eat honey; it’s a good thing even.

Most of us don’t think twice when we put our spoon in the honey jar. Yes, I’m guilty of that too.

But, as we deal with living organisms just as we do in other forms of keeping or farming animals, it is a good thing to sometimes evaluate critically what is going on.

These are some ethical questions I want to look into:

  • How does human interference effect bee welfare?
  • Why do we think it is OK to let bees produce honey for OUR consumption?
  • How do we feel about stealing a necessary survival product from bees that is for us merely a luxury product?

Note: I don’t want to give a conclusive opinion and I don’t want to plant an opinion in Your brain either! I just would like to provide an overview of conflicting arguments and give something to think about. At the same time this overview will be a starting point for different topics that I will further explore in my following blog posts. So this is

Note 2: This debate takes place in New Zealand, under the New Zealand rules, but will be in a lot of cases valid all over the world.


Vegan/animal right activist: Humans exploit bees. Not only do we take their honey, but we take their pollen, wax, propolis and royal jelly. Just because they fly, doesn’t mean they’re free. Beekeepers make them go through processes that are very similar to farming and it effects them in a bad way.

Beekeeper: Most beekeepers have a warm heart for their bees. We interfere with them, but this is greatly for the benefit of the bees. I admit there are some beekeepers out there that are mostly interested in the honey and the money, but even for them it is of great importance to look after the colonies properly. Please give me some examples of negative effects.

Vegan/animal right activist: You make them go through routine examination and handling, which stresses them out and crushes a lot of them to death on the way.

Beekeeper: we examine the hives to make sure the bees and their babies are happy and healthy and not suffering from disease. Also, it is necessary to check if the queen is still alive; if she is laying eggs and if she is looking after the colony properly. Examining hives means looking, listening and sometimes even smelling. We check if the cells show any anomalies, we listen to the buzz of the bees and we use our noses to detect a potential foul smell. We can learn a lot about the happiness of a colony by using most of our senses.

Vegan/animal right activist: You are keeping silent the fact that when you do all these inspections, you kill and crush a lot of bees and you stress them out.

Beekeeper: We try to minimize deaths and stress by using a smoker. When you smoke a beehive you trigger a natural instinct. The bees think: where there is smoke, there is fire. Their reaction? They climb inside their cells and start feeding. They store up on food because they don’t know when the next opportunity to feed will be. And you know how you feel when you eat heaps: it makes you feel drowsy. In this way, we reduce chances of crushing since most of them are safely tucked away with their head in a cell. Most of them will be rather dopey instead of stressed.


Vegan/animal right activist: Well, dopey bees aren’t very natural either. Smoke suppresses their communication via smell (pheromones). Dopey bees are bees that don’t function as well. And you will still stress and kill them in all sorts of other ways.


How does the battle continue? Find out in the next post!


One thought on “A Closer Look: Bee Ethics

  1. Pingback: Why don’t Bees Teleconference while Building a HIVE? | Jaggi

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