Honey is prepared by bees from the nectar of flowers, and forms their primary winter food source. Though many bees consume nectar and produce honey, only bees who live together in large colonies store appreciable quantities of honey. Producing honey is an exhaustive process for bees, and a single teaspoon represents the life’s work of 12 individuals.
As with any animal product, honey production means that bees are seen as commodities rather than autonomous beings. Bees are very complex creatures, who experience pain, are capable of emotional responses as well as abstract thought and have extremely sophisticated social systems. We know that honeybees process massive amounts of information about flowers, locations, and the behavior and physiological status of other bees in the hive, not to mention their ages, weather, and the seasons. They are not senseless automatons whose needs and preferences don’t need to be taken into account.
Despite this fact, bees are often cruelly treated and exploited for profit by the honey industry. Queen bees are often artificially inseminated and many beekeepers cut off their wings to prevent them leaving the hive. It is standard practice for commercial operations to take all or most of the honey bees produce, and replace it with a sugar syrup substitute. When harvesting, beekeepers often use smoke to purposely disorient and panic bees, and some will even burn entire hives during winter to reduce costs. Even putting aside the harm caused to bees, making a profit out of the life’s work of other beings is exploitation, and harvesting honey is quite simply taking something which isn’t ours to use.
Many people are willing to overlook welfare concerns because it is popularly thought that consuming honey helps bees and the environment. Contrary to popular belief, Apis mellifera, the species of bee we use for honey production, are not even close to being endangered; but thousands of lesser known species are. The honey industry only boosts numbers of these captive bees, when in fact, wild bees are better pollinators and their populations are being threatened by the presence of domestic honey bees. Many diseases that have only ever existed in domestic bees are also spreading to wild bee populations and placing them in very real danger, this is a direct result of the commercial production of honey. If you are interested in helping bee populations, you can provide shelter for bees without taking their honey or making a profit from them. This, as well as planting and maintaining bee friendly flowers in your garden, is one of the most effective ways to genuinely help bees, rather than just helping their owners.