Agri-business News pollinator

Published on February 2nd, 2010 | by Steve Savage

25

Two Questions for Vegans

Email this to someoneShare on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditShare on TumblrTweet about this on Twitter

A honey bee, is it an OK part of crop production?[social_buttons]

As I have been blogging on this site for a little while, I see some of the exchanges in the comment streams on other folk’s posts.  I was surprised to see that Vegans don’t use honey because it involves domsticated bees.  That has raised a few random questions for me.  (Full disclosure, I am a slightly reformed omnivore but at least I had a tufu-based dinner tonight).

I really don’t mean these questions to be combative.  I’d just like to understand a different point of view. Here are my questions:

1.  Are Vegans OK with eating “Organic” produce or grains that have been fertilized with animal manures? If you say it is not ok to eat honey because it involves an animal, I would expect that the dependency of Organic agriculture on animal wastes would be problematic from a Vegan point of view. Is that true?

2. Are Vegans OK with eating crops which need to be pollinated by bees (not wild bees but bees trucked in in hives for crops like almonds, blue berries…).

Seriously, I’m just wondering.

Bee image by wohack



Keep up with the latest sustainable food news by signing up for our free newsletter. CLICK HERE to sign up!



Get social!
Use the buttons to connect with EDB on some of your favorite social networks!

Tags: , ,


About the Author

Born in Denver, now living near San Diego. Agricultural scientist for 30+ years with a Ph.D. in Plant Pathology. Have worked for Colorado State University, DuPont and Mycogen and for the last 13 years consulting for all sorts or companies, universities and grower groups. Experience in biological control, natural products, synthetic chemicals, genetics, GMOs and agronomic practices. Have given multiple invited talks on the interaction between agriculture and climate change (both ways)



  • http://lavieestbelles.blogspot.com kathleen

    my veganism is not really that strict. not that i ever lapse and eat dairy and meat. but i do eat honey and would not be bothered by the above agricultural practices. to me its more about doing the best i can. i know i’m making a difference in my personal health and the environment by eating vegan without getting obsessed with the little details. i think not being crazy about that kind of thing gives veganism a more relaxed reputation. one can forgo meat, dairy and eggs without preaching about pollination practices and be a good vegan.

  • http://appliedmythology.blogspot.com Steve Savage

    Kathleen,
    I appreciate your stance. There is no absolute definition of “Vegansim”

  • http://mudnessa.blogspot.com mudnessa

    I have the same questions. I recently went vegetarian and now vegan but I try not to restrict myself. I will have the very occasional bean and cheese burrito or asian noodle soups at restaurants even though I know they are probably chicken broth based. That being said I obviously don’t have a problem with honey or any of the practices you asked about but I do wonder how others feel about it.

  • http://appliedmythology.blogspot.com Steve Savage

    In religious language there is something called “legalism” I wonder if that applies here

  • http://veganbenefitsblog.blogspot.com Sarah

    Great questions! I am a vegan, but I eat honey. Theoretically, at least. I don’t actually eat it because it’s just not part of my diet, but I do believe that it’s vegan…For the reasons that prompted your question, actually. It’s a really sticky (pun intended) issue in the vegan community because some people would say vegans who eat honey aren’t vegans at all. Others argue that there are logical inconsistencies in eating, say, almonds, a crop that requires bees, but not eating honey. Ultimately, everyone has to draw their own lines with veganism. It’s not about eliminating all suffering, but rather minimising it because we recognise eliminating it is not possible.

    I would also argue that insects aren’t sentient, but that’s quite contentious and the results are inconclusive. Most people would follow a “better safe than sorry” philosophy in this instance, and say that insects MIGHT be sentient, therefore we should avoid eating them or their products (e.g. honey, royal jelly, etc.).

    As far as the manure is concerned, that is also something that’s widely debated. The preference, of course, would be to not eat crops fertilised with manure. And there are people exploring and using other ways that are vegan: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vegan_organic_gardening. But this becomes an instance where, again, vegans need to draw the line, and do what they can with the way agriculture currently operates. Actually achieving the goal of eliminating ALL animal products from not only our food but during the production process is near impossible at this point in time (unless you grow it all yourself, but then we’re back to killing insects again). So we make due with what we’ve got right now.

    Some people would say, in response to all this, that it’s no use being vegan because you’ll always end up using animals. I come from a different perspective. To quote Colleen Patrick-Goudreau: “Don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything. Do something. Anything.”

    In other words, minimising harm is the goal, not perfection. We do something because we can’t do everything.

  • Pier

    I’m vegan but i don’t consider honey as something wrong for a vegan, even i eat very few honey, but i consider it ok.

    Regarding your question, of course being vegan cannot avoid any contact with animal products, since you live in this planet and not in our homeplanet vega (kidding). We just try to avoid all product with a direct abuse on animals

  • vegan

    I am vegan not just for health reasons but for moral reasons. I don’t eat honey one its bee vomit, and two I just don’t believe in controlling living creatures. Also I am the type of vegan who reads lables. Meaning no gelatin, sodium starealactolate of whey. I use necter that comes from the worlds natural process. Also I don’t think and it upsets me, if you call yourself vegan and eat cheese once in a while or eat things that have dehydrated chicken fat in it. Its not VEGAN and don’t call yourself that

  • Jenny

    It really depends on the vegan and how they feel about it (really, you can persuade yourself of anything if you want to) but personally, for me it’s because the bees made the honey to eat themselves, and having never been any kind of a honey fiend, I can easily live without it. That’s about it really.

  • Rob

    Yes it bothers me that animal manure is used to grow organic veg. Yes it bothers me that bees are trucked in to pollinate crops. But what are my alternatives? Eat mass produced chemical rubbish which is no good for anything? One day I’d like to live in a self-sustainable community and grow all my own food, that way I’ll know that neither of these things are done for my benefit. But that’s a long way off, in the meantime I live in the real world, and far as practical and possible I avoid using animal products, which means I don’t use honey.

    See http://www.veganorganic.net for a group who are trying to establish stock free growing as a real viable alternative system.

  • http://www.phytophiliac.com Chandelle

    I’m not vegan anymore, but I did go a full year without eating honey as a vegan, and then I decided that it didn’t make a lot of sense to avoid it. I did (and do) seek out local sources of honey from farmers who respect their bees, i.e. not deliberately destroying them because it’s easier and cheaper to replace them, but protecting their home and leaving them enough honey to live on. From a health and environmental standpoint, honey is the only local sweetener we can get, it’s the least processed of any sweetener, and it requires almost no agricultural inputs – not so for agave syrup, maple syrup, sugar, etc. Beehives are essential to maintain the closed-loop system of a sustainable farm. For a while I tried to use agave instead, and it is easier to use in many ways, but it’s much more processed, shipped from far away, and there are ethical issues with farm workers in Mexico. It makes sense to me from every standpoint – health, ethics, animal cruelty, ecology – to use honey exclusively.

    But I’m not vegan anymore – we also use eggs from backyard chickens to get a local protein source, reasoning that a great many more animals are destroyed in soy production in the Midwest, where our soy is sourced, and we recently decided to join a goatshare program to shift our diet away from coconut products, which aren’t even produced domestically.

    Generally I’d say, it’s all about different priorities for different people – animal cruelty is certainly a high priority for me, but I have to consider it practically and rationally, from a lot of different angles. Ultimately I decided that a vegan diet based on intensive agriculture is a lot more cruel to animals than sharing goat milk and unfertilized eggs from my friends’ backyards. I still don’t eat meat or commercial dairy products or commercial eggs. My philosophy is evolving over time and honey was one of the first abstentions I doubted – because I want to farm myself and honeybees are so incredibly important in a closed-system farm. We MUST learn to live symbiotically and humanely with animals and insects. That’s the only way to save ourselves and each other. That’s my new evangelicalism. :)

  • Jackie

    It depends on the person. I’ve heard that before. Sorry if I believe myself to be a true blue vegan. Meaning I don’t slip. i read ingredients and I don’t make excuses. That’s me and I don’t respect anybody who calls themselves vegan and “slips” You can’t “slip” on the justification of killing, or harvesting and controlling things or living beings. It’s not right. That is my view and I am proud True Blue.

  • BRhungryartist

    Eating honey is the equivalent of eating milk products – something that is produced for the nourishment of the animal’s young. Using manure is recycling a waste product that is beneficial for the growth of our food. There would not be much food available to anyone if we did not eat food pollinated by bees – that’s just a huge necessary part of life’s cycle.

  • Daniel

    Anyone who uses or consumes animal products, like honey, cannot call themselves vegan. That’s like saying you’re vegetarian but you sometimes eat meat.

    Bees are exploited for their honey – which they make for themselves, not for us – and in many cases they are killed at the end of the season.

    Having said that, veganism is about eliminating animal suffering and death WHERE POSSIBLE.

    The rearview mirror on the bus that you take to work may be held in place with glue containing animal products, but does that mean a vegan can’t ride the bus? Of course not.

    Animal exploitation is everywhere. It’s pretty hard to avoid coming into contact with it. There are some things vegans can avoid and some things vegans cannot. Honey is one of the things we CAN avoid.

  • Brandon

    I’m vegan. I don’t eat honey. Everyone has a threshold of the effort they’re willing to put into their moral stances. It’s really easy not to eat honey, so I don’t. It’s easy for me to read labels and avoid things like whey, honey, etc. However, it would take more effort and work to find produce that wasn’t pollinated commercially or grown with animal based fertilizer. While I would prefer that those practices were not the case, that’s a line I haven’t broached yet. Same with alcohol. If I know alcohol isn’t vegan, I don’t consume it (i.e. Bogle Wine). If I know it is, I’ll try to buy that kind (i.e. Orleans Hills wine). However, if I don’t know and I can’t find the answer quickly, I don’t worry about it. Again, with all moral choices, everyone has a different threshold.

  • http://www.ecovore.org Evz

    I don’t identify myself as a vegan, partly due to this very issue… I can see both sides — there’s a LONG discussion that pretty well sums up all views, I think, at http://vegweb.com/index.php?topic=23555.0.

    To me, the goal is to do ‘the least harm possible,’ in a big-picture sort of way… Harvesting honey *is* ‘stealing’ food meant for another creature, and is definitely use of animal species by humans, and I really do get why vegans object to the practice… but sometimes, depending on specific local resources & circumstances, personally it seems to me that local honey (from individual beekeepers, using best-ethics practices) kills less things/ causes less harm, than the production of other sweeteners.

    Producing any commercial crop by conventional agriculture involves more insect death than for honey, often in tandem with heavy pesticide use that harms OTHER creatures too. Then you’ve got all that packaging & transportation, with the CO2 & waste disposal issues inherent in that… If I just take a bell jar to fill up at Ed’s (a farmer I know who keeps a small hive), that seems so much less harmful to the ecoweb overall, compared to buying commercial GMO beet sugar made 17 states away, or vegan cane sugar made in another country… that’s just how it looks to me.

    For another thing, honey’s a super-sustainable super low-eco-impact food; and beekeepers (like oyster farmers) are often fierce advocates for good environmental practices (bees are heavily affected by pesticide residues, so that’s a crucial issue to those who raise them)… personally I feel like symbiosis isn’t necessarily the same thing as exploitation; I have no problem with eating pet-chicken eggs, for the same sort of reason. I DO avoid industrially produced honey, though, b/c it tends to do more harm to the critters, there’s the same packaging/ transport issue as any other sweetener, & the advantages of supporting local/ sustainable/ individual agriculture are lost.

    I’m not a vegan (I’m an ecovegavore: had to make it up, ’cause nothing else fit! http://www.ecovore.org/blog/?p=712)… so technically I guess I shouldn’t comment here, since you’re asking vegans… but you know I can’t resist throwing my $0.02 into the hat!

    :-)

  • Courtney

    Thank you Chandelle for really thinking through the system you live in. To decide arbitrarily what you will eat based on a global standard makes little sense. Each agricultural system is different and thus each choice you make creates a different impact depending upon your system.

  • cyrell

    Beeing vegan means to avoid things that can be avoided…

    No one has to eat honey..it is different with fields and animal mazure.

    Most vegans can not choose to grow their own food and use other fertilizers like compost made from plants and their own human waste, or fertilizer made from algaes and stone meal(which is also often used in organic famring because it has micro minerals and other stuff which is not found in normally used fertilizer).

    So you can choose not to use honey, but often you have no choice with the fertilizers..you have to live with that.

    But because of the high ammount of chemicals and antibiotics in the waste of farm animals i try to buy as much organic as i can.
    So at least there are not as much chemicals in my food.

    The other point with the food, pollinated with bees, is the same as with the fertilizing of fields.

    You have not really a choice….

    And also honey bees endanger wild bees and other insects.

    Honey bees are one race out of 1000s in a country..and all these bees and other insects which pollinize are often specialised on only a couple of plants..and this is where they pollinate best…better than honey bees.

    But because honey bees work in such a high number, they seem to pollinate more efficient..but take all the nectar and pollen away which leaves nothing for the wild, specialised insects which then starve.

    It was in ireland or scotland where a kind of clover was imported to use it as famr animal feed.

    But the fields brought no seeds…the farmers could not harvest seeds to use them on other fields.

    No one knew why, but then they found the reason.

    The clover could only be pollinized, not by bees but only by a sort of bumblebees. The honey bees took the nectar out of the flowers, but did not pollinate the flowers.

    Only the bumble bees did and they had to be imported from the mainland.

    So you see, there are more problems to honey and honey bees than just animals and their product.

    That is also why bumble bees are used to pollinate tomatoes

    But you can help the wild bees a bit with building wild bee hotels out of straw, clay and wood(wild bees do normally not sting so they are save even with small children)

    Also seeding plants in the garden which will give the wild bees food is usefull. Honey bees concentrate on large ammounts of flowers..like a whole field of apple trees.

    Small patches of wild flowers are often not used by bees if there is a big field with other flowers or flowering trees near bye..so small patches of flowers in your garden can help wild bees and other insects very much.

  • Chris

    Best article on the subject:

    The Myth of the Perfect Vegan

    I must admit, sometimes I get so wrapped up in my veganism that I become legalistic towards my lifestyle in a way that’s counterproductive. We’ve had a lot of snow here in the UK these past few weeks, and this has got me thinking about purity, and what it means to have our sins made ‘white as snow’ through God’s grace.

    As a vegan, it’s all too easy to become obsessed with the idea of being ‘pure,’ both physically and morally, in the decisions we make in life. I am currently facing the dilemma of whether or not to buy organic vegetables, since most organic farming involves fertilizing crops with blood, bone and other animal by-products. Organic vegetables that have been grown using only composted plant matter have been dubbed ‘veganic,’ but unfortunately the move towards this type of farming is extremely slow and isolated, and it would be near impossible to source all of your fruit and veggies this way (unless, of course, you are lucky enough to live near one of these rare veganic farms).

    Here is a link to the Vegan Organic Network, in case you’re interested in their work:
    http://www.veganorganic.net/index.php?option=com_frontpage&Itemid=1

    You can read a discussion about the pros and cons of organic farming on ‘The Vegan Forum’ website. Clearly vegans are divided about this issue, and are unsure about what is the most ethical way to proceed. Eating organic entails a method of farming that involves the use of animal by-products in fertilizer, and thus arguably supports the very industry that vegans work so hard to avoid. However, not eating organic entails supporting farming methods that are harmful to the environment, and possibly human health.
    You can read the debate here:
    http://www.veganforum.com/forums/showthread.php?t=437

    And also find more posts on veganic and organic food in general here:
    http://www.veganforum.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=58

    When I rang Abel and Cole (the company who deliver our weekly organic veg box) about this issue, I was told by their representative that I would need to hold the line while she asked around the office for more information.

    ‘Hold on a minute,’ said Katie, the woman who answered the phone, ‘I’ll just go and ask my colleague, as he’s a vegan and he’s likely to know a lot more about this.’

    ‘Thanks, that’d be great.’

    Five minutes later, Katie returns to the phone.

    ‘Hi, thanks for waiting. Okay, so I’ve spoken to my vegan friend, and unfortunately he says that you just have to get over it, really, that it’s impossible to avoid in this instance as animal by-products are involved in almost all farming, and you just need to move on. And he is a committed vegan, so…’

    ‘Right. Okay. It just seems a bit sad that, as a vegan, I can’t buy organic veg that haven’t been fertilized with blood and bone.’

    ‘Yes, it is strange isn’t it?’

    Despite not really knowing much about it, the representative that dealt with my call was incredibly helpful, and asked for my email address so that she could send more information to me once she’d called suppliers. I asked if she’d forward my concern about the issue, just to reinforce the fact that vegans care about this, and that it should be something that’s on the company’s radar. I hung up the phone feeling a bit defeated. My only vegan option would be to grow my own ‘veganic’ veg, which isn’t really possible for a student living in a second floor flat in the middle of Leamington Spa.

    So, where do I go from here? I felt like collapsing under the weight of the impossibility of being a ‘pure’ vegan, of trying to eliminate my involvement in factory farming. Now I have to worry about my vegetables as well?! I have so much to learn, and my naivety about the extent to which factory farming permeates our way of life becomes more apparent to me each day.

    Feeling overwhelmed, I reminded myself of the Vegan Society statement:
    ‘Veganism is a way of living that seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing and any other purpose.’

    As far as possible and practicable. I need to remind myself that sometimes I simply have to compromise; we live in a broken, flawed, and violent world, and by being a vegan I am choosing to live against the grain of what is considered ‘the norm’ in western society. I could go and live in the countryside and grow my own ‘veganic’ veg, and perhaps in some people’s eyes that would make me a better vegan. But, I strongly feel that it is more important that vegans are dispersed throughout society as opposed to congregating together in an ‘alternative’ community that operates independently, as the latter just wouldn’t be an effective way to usher in change. It’s true that being a vegan can be an incredibly isolating experience; at the party, you’ll probably be the only one that cares about whether or not there’s a ‘V’ on the back of the wine bottle, and that can be frustrating. (I don’t realise the extent to which I experience this isolation until I go to a vegetarian restaurant and feel an immediate kinship with everyone there in a way that always surprises me.)

    I have to operate in a world that on the whole views animals as factory parts, as opposed to the living, breathing, feeling creatures that God created them to be. Because of this fact, it is impossible for me to come anywhere close to being a ‘pure’ vegan.

    http://theveganchristian.blogspot.com/

  • http://www.HealthyVeganRecipes.net Heather

    I am a vegan who eats honey and I occasionally use it in my weeknight healthy vegan video recipes. While I think that the main reasons that vegans often give for not eating it are really quite good, I’d like to raise the point that plants are living, highly intelligent beings, too. We treat them quite poorly these days with our farming practices, just like our bees and animals. Food for thought.

  • Janpo

    I consider myself vegan… and I eat honey sometimes, and very little. I dont buy comercial honey, but from local producers that only take 1/3 or maximum 1/2 leaving enough for the bees to eat for themselves. If i get to become a beekeeper myself I will of course ask the bees for permission.
    I have heard, not yet learned, that beekeeping plays a very important role in having a rewarding garden experience. The yield, and quality, is said to multiply many times.
    I also have one exeption…if the honey is stolen from a comercial honey-producer in a supermarket, I can have a taste…I dont know under wich ethical category this falls under,or if it fits, but somehow I felt it had some sense when I ate it…? To steal from the robbers Robin Hood style!

    When it comes to fertilizers I would love it if no slavery induced crap was involved, but my control over this is equal to none, so I do my best to buy organic and fair-trade and hope for the best.

    My prime concern in our ways of getting energy is to not contribute to enslavement of any being.
    I sometimes say to vegetarians that if i was very very thirsty and a very sexy wild cow would come up to me, (she would have to be very sexy..)and offer me a sip on her nipple, maybe I would go for it…?
    maybe….

  • http://twitterlistbuilder.com/SlavaRybalka Green Opportunities

    just retweeted your post
    it’s seriously a good question
    I’m not Vegan myself but I’m thinking about it.

  • Pingback: Can Someone Explain “Organic Tobacco” to Me? « Green Commentaries Around the Web

  • Toran

    I am glad you asked these Questions. Here is my answers.

    To answer your first Q?
    1. Not “all” organic farms use animal waste, a lot use human waste. By farming terms it is called [b]cake[/b]. what did you think happened to your turd after flushed it? Aside from that not all organic farms use animal manure, actually many don’t. They use what is called green manure, a green manure is a type of cover crop grown primarily to add nutrients and organic matter to the soil. As for the farms that use animals waste I don’t see a big problem in recycling a waste product, yes I wish that was a product that did not exist. But it does and it needs to be dealt with, as for using this as an argument to say that vegans are hypocrites, I say meat eaters are grasping at straws now.

    2.Read this site thoroughly http://www.vegetus.org/honey/honey.htm [b]This part mainly [/b] http://www.vegetus.org/honey/ecology.htm [b]Honey bees are very bad for the enviroment…[/b]

    Hope this answers your Questions

  • http://appliedmythology.blogspot.com Steve Savage

    Toran,
    There is a far better use for the manure – energy via a digester or by pyrolysis.
    As for wild bees, there is a large and successful program in Europe called “Operation Bumble Bee.” Syngenta is offering farmers seeds for flowers to plant at field margins etc that are good for supporting wild bees

  • http://Web Srikanth

    It’s amazing how many people (vegans and non-vegans) have replied here and none of them have a response that seems convincing to me. So here’s my perspective.

    I am vegan, and i gave up honey and i encourage people to give it up, too. Here’s why ..

    1. Honey is basically the bee’s survival food, accumulated slowly by collecting nectar from thousands of flowers. And it is meant to help them tide over tough times. It doesn’t seem decent or compassionate of humans NOT ethical to treat bees like slaves and cultivate their winter food for our consumption.

    2. Honey is really ‘bee vomit’. Yes, that’s right, vomit. The stuff is regurgitated right from their stomachs after they collect it. People who quickly jump and say, “It’s pasteurized” should know that the process is not very useful because then, you’re destroying all the beneficial ‘Amylase’ (an ingredient which has predigestive properties).

    And now to answer your first question: Veganism doesn’t have to be perceived as an absolute pure or strict avoidance of ALL THINGS even remotely touched by animals. It is simply a conscious and compassionate lifestyle that involves continuous refinement in the decisions that govern our choices, as you go. I don’t think using animal manure harms the animal in any way, or, say, robs it of a produce that threatens its life in any way.

    There! My two cents.

Back to Top ↑