Even though pollen is the honeybee’s primary source of nutrition, honey is their sole food source during cold weather and other times when alternatives are not available.
- Bee pollen: pollen collected by bees; their primary source of nutrition.
- Royal jelly (bee milk): the pharyngeal gland secretions of the nurse bees. The queen larvae receives more of the royal jelly than the worker larvae, growing her into a queen bee.
- Beeswax: secreted by bees to help build their hives.
- Propolis: a brownish resinous material of waxy consistency collected by bees from the buds of trees and used as a cement and an antiseptic.
Cruelty in the Honey Industry
Common practices in the honey industry are:
To prevent the queen bee from leaving the hive, honey producers sometimes cut off her wings.
Often, queen bees are artificially inseminated.
Large commercial operations sometimes take all the honey instead of leaving enough for the bees to get through the winter. The honey is than replaced with a cheap sugar substitute.
Most beekeepers remove all the spring-season honey.
In colder areas, some bee keepers will burn the beehives, killing all the bees inside, before the winter starts to reduce cost.
Bees are often killed or harmed by haphazard handling.
Bees are hardworking animals who deserve to keep the labor of their work. Stealing products from them is a form of exploitation, which should and can be easily avoided. Honey can be replaced by agave syrup, rice syrup, barley malt, maple syrup, molasses, sorghum or fruit concentrates.
Can we talk about this for a second? Because we’re going to. This is ONLY addressing large commercial beekeepers and completely disregarding all of the small, local beekeepers. Yes, many of these practices are common with big industry beekeepers who are hauling trucks of hives across the country to the almond fields in California. It’s largely thanks to these folks abusing miticides and mishandling their bees that we are struggling with Colony Collapse Disorder (in addition to dangerous pesticides and fungicides). An important note here is that these people are making the majority of their profits from pollination, not from selling you mass-produced honey. It just isn’t cost-effective anymore to sell honey on a huge scale, and less and less big-time beekeepers are doing it. Now, let’s go back to your local beekeeepers, shall we? These practices have nothing to do with most local, small beekeepers. In fact, it’s these people we have to thank for nurturing our struggling bee population. Particularly beekeepers who are going the organic route! There’s no need to cut off wings if you are working on a small enough scale to be conscientious of your hives’ activity. You know when your queen is going to go out on her first flight and when a swarm is imminent. You are READY with an additional box for your bees, an ideal, safe home for them. You don’t take honey until your bees are overproducing, and you leave enough honey for the winter. If you took it all away you wouldn’t have bees the following year—a huge dent to a small operation! I have never met a small-time beekeeper who didn’t have some reverence for their bees. They do everything within their power to ensure their bees have the best possible conditions to produce far more honey than they need, to grow in population, to thrive: sunlight, protection from the elements, protection from natural predators (such as bears), placement in the best gathering ranges, minimal interference (hives only need to be checked every couple weeks), extra sustenance in the winter if it proves particularly difficult, etc. They have a mutually beneficial relationship with their bees. In addition to functioning as guardians for bees, local, organic beekeepers are focused on breeding a better bee, called hygienics, that are able to detect and remove pupae infested with the varroa mite (the biggest factor behind CCD). This is in contrast to big-time beekeepers who abuse miticides and perpetuate a weak bee that is unable to survive on its own. In many cities, I am hearing that there aren’t even wild swarms to be found anymore. Without the aid of local beekeepers, we could lose our bees. These are the people vying for policy changes, these are the people fighting for bees. When you stop buying honey, you stop supporting them.