Safeguarding the existence of bees is the key to human survival, yet there is ongoing debate about whether harvesting honey from bees is a cruel practice and whether it’s ok to eat honey. We explore the issue and share some ways that you can help bees survive and thrive.
One of our most cherished international awareness days, World Bee Day on 20 May reminds us just how significant bees and other pollinators are to our very own existence.
By carrying pollen from one flower to another, bees - along with other pollinators such as butterflies, bats and birds - facilitate and improve food production, thus vitally contributing to our food security and nutrition.
In fact, about two-thirds of the crop plants that feed the world rely on pollination by insects or other animals to produce healthy fruits and seeds for human consumption.
Pollination also has a positive impact on the environment in general, helping to maintain biodiversity and the vibrant ecosystems upon which agriculture depends.
But bee populations are on the decline, largely due to intensive farming practices, excessive use of agricultural chemicals, mono-culture farming practices and higher temperatures associated with climate change.
So encouraging improved conditions for bees to build pollination security is truly key to our survival.
With such an enormous, global issue, what can we each do to contribute and help positively impact the situation?
Doing it for the bees
Like with so many issues, gathering knowledge and education about the topic, sharing facts with others and starting a conversation is always a good start.
And as with many large-scale problems, what you do at home in your own backyard - literally - can make a big difference.
Creating a more bee-friendly environment to help support your local native bee population is a great place to begin. You need not become a qualified apiarist (beekeeper) to lend a hand! Here are some easy ways you can attract more native bees to your backyard.
Plant bee-friendly native flowers. Different bees like different flowers.
Plant herbs and vegetables. Bees also eat these! Let a few of your leafy vegetables, such as kale, cabbage and spinach, go to seed after harvest.
Don't use pesticides. Even some of the organic ones are deadly to bees.
Give bees a water source. They will drink from a small bowl or a bird bath, placed near bee-friendly flowers.
Provide a bee habitat. Bees need a nest site, which you can create out of natural materials.
There are more than 1,700 species of Australian native bees, with different bees found in different parts of the country. There are several resources available to help you identify which bees you may have in your backyard, including the Australian Native Bee Research Centre.
You may wish to take your support one step further, and explore the option of setting up your own native beehive, as Bodhi owner Heaven Leigh has recently done.
“I have always had an obsession with bees and beekeeping since I was a small child,” said Heaven.
“One of my dearest uncles was an amatuer beekeeper and there was always something wonderful about his garden - it was like a magical fairyland full of beautiful flowers and busy little bees.
“This prompted me to begin my own beehive, however I have chosen not to harvest the honey and to keep Australian native bees, instead of European bees.”
Is honey vegan-friendly?
It's a somewhat contentious issue on where to draw the line when it comes to vegans eating honey.
Vegans avoid eating all animal products like meat, eggs and dairy, as well as foods that are made from animals.
Some people who eat an otherwise entirely plant-based diet opt to include honey in their diet.
While others consider bee farming as animal exploitation, and see no difference between bee farming and other forms of animal farming. Practices such as clipping wings of queen bees, replacing honey with a sugar substitute, and euthanizing colonies to prevent the spread of disease are common in commercial bee farming…but are practices which are considered as unethical by vegan standards.
The conversation becomes more complicated when it comes to vegetables and fruits which require migratory beekeeping in the process of commercial farming, when there are not enough local bees or pollinators to pollinate large orchards of, say, avocados and almonds.
Evidence suggests transporting bees to pollinate crops can negatively affect their health and lifespan, and have negative environmental impacts such as the spread of disease to native bee populations.
Then there is the issue that if we were to stop commercial beekeeping altogether there would be a collapse in the food chain and there wouldn't be enough pollinators to keep up with current demand for food from the global population.
We need to ask ourselves, is there a compromise here? Can we find a way to change farming practices to become cruelty-free?
One fact remains: bees make honey for bees. And humans can thrive without honey in their diets, so there’s plenty of flexibility here. There are many vegan-friendly alternatives to honey, such as maple syrup, molasses and agave nectar.