Is Beekeeping Cruel?
People's concerns about practices within the food industry are often completely legitimate. We are all aware that there have been instances of poor practice in almost all areas of farming and food production. This has caused many people to question if beekeeping is cruel and whether it is ethical to take honey for our own consumption. At Just Bee, we understand why people might have concerns and why people might question beekeepers in this way, however we feel that these types of questions are often based on misunderstanding or repeated dogma without any basis in reality.
Animal cruelty can be defined as animal abuse, neglect or any kind of suffering caused by humans to non-human animals. It might seem obvious to anyone involved in beekeeping that it doesn't fit that definition by any stretch of the imagination but most people do not have that experience and do not fully understand the way bees are actually cared for by beekeepers.
What beekeepers will often hear is that their work interferes with the natural life of bees. The production of honey, and the more general work of beekeepers, does not cause any harm to bees. In fact the opposite is true and while populations of some bee species are in dangerous decline, the general health of the western honey bee population is fairly healthy. This is in no small part thanks to the care and work of beekeepers. Beekeepers are committed to the life of their bee colonies, we want them to be healthy and happy. Thankfully because of our unique position we are often able to intervene and greatly improve a colonies chances of survival against parasites and diseases than it would have without us around. A good beekeeper knows when to intervene but also when to let the bees free to behave as their natural instincts require. Honeybees are absolutely free to roam over miles of wildflowers and crops. The bees choose to return each night to their safe, dry, and warm hives. If they didn’t want to return, they are free not to at any time.
During the honey production process, beekeepers interact with bees with full respect to their natural lives and it doesn't make any economic sense do anything that could harm the bees. To continue successful beekeeping year after year, a healthy swarm and hive is essential at all times. Any kind of neglect or ill-treatment of the bees would result very quickly in a failed business. Even just causing a minimal amount of stress to the bees could weaken them and result in less productivity. To make the largest amounts of honey, bees need a safe and hospitable environment. It's why we have to be so careful collecting honey and hives are designed to allow us to do it with minimal disturbance to the bees. There is only one area in the hive a bee keeper collects from for this reason. The largest lower area contains honey reserves that are never taken. The truth is that any product coming from bees like royal jelly, beeswax and honey, must all be taken in a way that does not harm the bee colony.
We believe that the consumption of honey is an ethical choice that absolutely does not endanger or harm the life and health of bees. Unfortunately, the biggest danger to bees is pesticides used on crops that bees pollinate, many of which include the fruit, vegetables and crops that make up a big part of our diets and many of the products on our supermarket shelves. It's been identified by Friends of the Earth as the single biggest threat to wild bee populations and it continues to have a devastating effect. Honeybees looked after by professional beekeepers are thankfully not presently in danger of becoming extinct. Beekeepers and breeders have done a lot of work to keep the numbers of honeybees from getting to the serious dangerously low levels of some other bee species. This does not happen through cruelty or causing any bee suffering but through care and compassion. We take our responsibility to these amazing creatures very seriously.
Taking risks with the health of the bees to make more profit or reduce the price of our honey is not something we will ever be interested in. Beekeepers take bee welfare extremely seriously at every level and it's why you will find many of us at the forefront of initiatives to help bees in any way we can. We want to make sure we keep our bees happy and healthy at all times and that the product you receive is always the finest quality ourselves and our beekeeping partners can produce in the most ethical and sustainable way possible.
We will always promote bee welfare and we will continue with our mission to create a more bee friendly Britain. Honey is made from one of the most incredible processes in the natural world. From those first tiny drops of nectar in the flower to the finished product stored in the beehive it is untouched by human hands unlike almost everything else we consume. Honey is a natural product that requires very little intervention of that process other than making sure the bees are as happy and as well cared for as they can be.
We cannot of course give a free pass to all beekeepers and honey producers everywhere. Like any industry, hobby, group of pet owners or animal carers, there are good practices and bad practices and that is no different within beekeeping and honey farming. Some may not be as careful or caring as they need to be and people will have concerns about that, and of course we share those concerns too. However the vast majority of beekeepers want nothing but the best for bees and as a group we are some of the biggest proponents of bee welfare you will ever meet... and trust us, we've met a lot! Honeybees are thriving in part because beekeepers are keeping them alive and healthy in a world that's becoming increasingly hazardous for them to exist in due to other industries and farming.
Our working relationship with bees may be different to most people but we are probably more invested in their welfare than most. We are very selective about the beekeepers we work with and choose them very carefully to make sure they are operating with the highest level of ethics and treat their bees with the care and respect they deserve. A big part of our job is looking after the bees and making sure the people we work with also do the same to very high standards. We wouldn't accept it any other way and neither would they or the millions of beekeepers around the world doing a fantastic job of beekeeping every day.