Is Beekeeping Ethical?

The answer to this question depends mainly on what a person considers ethical. Therefore, it can vary significantly depending on who you ask. That’s why I believe there is no definitive answer; however, there are degrees in which beekeeping can be more or less ethical.

Beekeeping is ethical, depending on how it’s done. There are beekeeping practices that aim at keeping bees safe following their natural patterns and behaviors. When these guidelines are respected, beekeeping is ethical.

image of a beekeeper holding up a frame of honey

Answering these questions can be tricky as they are very subjective, and usually, there are many variables involved. However, an excellent way to start addressing the subject is by determining what’s cruel to bees and does them more harm than good.

Is Beekeeping Cruel?

Beekeeping is cruel when we harm bees in ways that can be avoidable…When we keep bees only to benefit ourselves and choose to disregard the damage we do to them.

While some may argue keeping bees, in general, is unnatural and therefore cruel, I believe it largely depends on how much your activities as a beekeeper harms your bees. The way I see it, it’s more a matter of WHEN is it cruel instead of whether it is or not.

What Beekeeping Practices Are Considered Cruel?

Beekeeping becomes cruel when we exploit and harm bees just to benefit ourselves. Unfortunately, the high demand for bee products has pushed companies to produce them at levels bee colonies wouldn’t be able to keep up with. So, to preserve profit levels, they go against the bee’s natural behavior.

This is mainly seen in the honey industry, but other agricultural industries use bees in ways that threaten bees’ health and wellbeing.  

Commercial And Profit-Centric Beekeeping

What bees do on a given day is primarily determined by the weather. Therefore, temperature regulation is extremely important in a bee colony because they tolerate temperatures between 28ºF – 113ºF (-2ºC – 45ºC). Anything outside this range is a serious threat to their health.

That’s why you are more likely to find more bees flying around on a warm day than during the winter. In the spring and summer periods, bees collect all the pollen and nectar they can. This allows them to produce honey and other nutritious food to feed themselves, the brood, and the queen.

Once the warm days are gone, they use any honey surplus to insulate the beehive and keep up with the energy demands of keeping the beehive warm until the cold days are gone.

This means less honey available and fewer sales during fall and winter for honey companies. So, to offset the lower output of honey, these businesses end up following practices that focus primarily on meeting their production and profit targets, regardless of what it does to bees.

But big companies aren’t always the ones to blame. Sometimes small and beginner beekeepers fall into common mistakes due to ignorance. That’s why it’s essential to keep learning about bees and their behavior to know how to look appropriately look after your bees and maintain your hobby cruelty-free.

Migratory Beekeeping

Due to bees being responsible for the pollination of many plants, keeping bees became profitable by renting beehives to crops, so they promote the growth of those plants.

There are several issues with migratory beekeeping, which I explain better in this article. But, just to give you a quick summary, this type of beekeeping transports several beehives on trucks across the country and during long periods of time.

This means colonies are in close contact, allowing disease to spread easier. Additionally, during transport, they cannot forage and collect resources to feed themselves, so they are provided sugar syrup, allowing them to survive but without as many nutrients.

Sounds cruel, doesn’t it? And these are only a couple of examples of the harm it does to bees…

Is It Wrong To Take Honey From Bees?

Taking honey from bees isn’t necessarily wrong unless you endanger them. Bees can produce enough honey to feed themselves and for us to enjoy. However, you must know when and how much to take to avoid putting them at risk

As a rule of thumb, the closer to winter, the more honey stores you should leave them. As the weather gets colder, it will be harder for them to go out and forage; therefore, the amount of honey they produce will decrease. If you take all their honey stores around fall, they won’t be able to replace them, and they’ll most likely die of starvation and hypothermia during winter.

Another critical moment for a bee colony is when they are first establishing themselves and growing. Beekeepers that look after their bees avoid harvesting from new beehives so the colony can grow strong and defend themselves from pests and intruders.

Is There An Ethical Way To Practice Beekeeping?

Yes, there are ways you can practice beekeeping in more ethical ways. This is known as ethical beekeeping. In general terms, ethical beekeeping tries to maintain the natural conditions of bees as much as possible so they are not harmed. It serves as a guideline on feeding them, harvesting honey, and other everyday activities in beekeeping.

Conclusion – Is Beekeeping Ethical Or Cruel?

Beekeeping is ethical depending on how you do it. Certain activities or ways of doing things can make beekeeping cruel to bees by doing them a lot of harm only to benefit yourself. This is common in big industries where generating profit is more important than bee’s well-being.

To avoid falling into unethical and cruel practices make sure you first understand how bees behave in their natural environment. That way it will be easier for you to predict the actions that can hurt them and those that will help them thrive.

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