When trying to live a more sustainable life, one is presented with a various of different dilemmas. Some of you have requested that we write about the honey industry in particular, which inspired us to do an article where we try to create an overlook over this industry, including what you should avoid and what to look out for when purchasing honey, as well as some pros and cons. We try to lay all the cards on the table so it's easier to chose right. Do note that we've based this article on information provided by the UK based organization Friends of the Earth and Ethical Consumer, as well as a local organicfarm we've been in touch with.
Know where the honey is from
When purchasing honey it's important to know where the honey is from. This is essential if we want a happy and healthy planet and bees. Purchasing your produce from smaller organic farms is a good step in the right direction towards choosing the right kind of honey. A benefit of shopping local is that you for instance avoid high food miles. But an important factor is also that smaller organic farms often have their own hives on the land to help with pollination, meaning that they might not be as reliant on sales of honey to keep their business afloat, but rather the pollination process. If you shop honey locally, you can always ask the beekeepers about their practices and values. It is also possible to email more major brands.
Of course, not everyone have the possibility to choose local, but regardless of this, you should look for organic certification and Fairtrade certified honey, to avoid poor working conditions for both the beekeepers and bees. Also, try to read up on the different brands. For instance, many honey brands are not able to carry the organic label because they can't guarantee that the bees only visit organically-grown flowers. Still, many beekeepers follow organic principles - so it's defiantly worth doing your research!
What should I look out for in terms of bee welfare? Once again, dialogue is important. If you’re concerned about animal welfare - contact your local beekeepers and talk to them about their hives and practices. For example, to ensure that the bees have plenty of their own honey to last them the winter, ask the beekeepers about how much they take off. Another question can be to ask where the bees are kept and how many hives they have. A dozen hives or thousands can make a big difference in how they’re kept.
You might be wondering "Why should I bother buying honey?". Some scientists claim that commercial bees are absolutely required to pollinate key crops, because of modern food production, while other scientists stress the fact that commercial bees have a negative effect on wild bees, due to disease. You all are entitled to your own thoughts and opinions on this topic, we are simply sharing some of the information we've gathered the past years. If you don't like honey or are going vegan, that is perfectly fine. There are many different ways to help the bees. But if you do enjoy honey, it is important to take the facts stated above into consideration. We try to make the sustainable living community as inclusive as possible, which is why we also try to inform about products that are not vegan. It's better to choose local, fair-trade, organic honey, than the regular honey, which is often damaging to the ecosystem and bees.
We can't tell you whether or not you should continue buying honey, but hopefully this information will help you make a conscious choice. What's important is that we share the same goal - being aware of what we eat and the effects that cause, and inspire others to make better choices as well. The downside to buying honey is complex, which is why we decided to include some links to different articles regarding this topic. They explain it better than we ever could, so be sure to have a read:
...And a few links to articles that are more positive towards the honey industry:
Which honey brand should I buy (if not locally)?
(Note that the descriptions below are directly from the different brands' websites. The first two brands were featured in Ethical Consumer's Nov/Dec 2014 magazine's honey guide. )
Equal Exchange organic Fairtrade honey: Fair trade, organic, gluten free and palm free. "Choose Equal Exchange and you'll be making a big difference to the lives of small farmers and producers in the developing world. Why? Because they’re often victims of unjust economics. Working with them is the whole reason Equal Exchange went into business: enabling them to achieve a more sustainable way of life. For example, all Equal Exchange teas are packed at source, which means that even more money gets invested into local communities. Most products in the Equal Exchange range are also organic and the company has pioneered many major Fairtrade and organic world-firsts. Ethical Superstore stock over 40 Fairtrade and organic certified Equal Exchange products."
Forest’s Fairtrade and organic honey: "Organic Forest Honey, Soil Association certified, gathered from wild bees deep in the incredibly diverse, highland rainforests of Zambia. Cold pressed (high pollen content) and no sugar feeding, antibiotics or varroacides."
Eco bee farms raw honey: "Raw Unheated Unprocessed by Y.S. Organic Bee Farms 22.0 oz. Liquid Raw Unheated Unfiltered Unpasteurized What is the major difference in organic from conventional beekeeping Organic bee colonies are not maintained with the use of any chemicals Terramycin for treating foulbrood disease Apistan for Verroa mites GardStar for treating small hive beetles nor Bee Go to chase bees instead of using a smoker. We meet all the standards of Organic Certification including GMO Free Land Certification Beehives Certification Producer Certification Processor Certification. How can someone say it's organic honey when bees can fly wherever they want First the beehives are specifically placed in isolated areas away from any type of contamination (golf courses agricultural areas heavy traffic areas landfills). Secondly the flying range of a bee is determined by their natural instinct which tells them to stay within approximately a two mile range from their hive location."
Some substitutes for honey:
✘ Date syrup
✘ Maple syrup
✘ Agave syrup
✘ Coconut nectar