One of the questions that I had before taking beekeeping as a hobby was how to practice it ethically. I am a true believer in leading a life that takes care of the environment and the planet that we live in.
It’s no secret that our activities can have a detrimental effect on the land we use and the other living organisms around us. To make sure I would minimize a negative impact when practicing beekeeping, I looked into ethical beekeeping.
Ethical beekeeping refers to the practices that allow the bees to maintain their natural behavior as much as possible. It’s all about having a bee-centered approach, instead of focusing on maximizing honey production or other products for a profit.
Keep in mind, this does not mean that every beekeeper that sells honey for a living is unethical. If their approach to beekeeping is to take care of the bees’ health and wellbeing and organize the production activities like the harvest around this, selling honey can be ethical.
Note: There is a whole discussion around whether honey is vegan or not, which I’m not going to examine in this post, but it’s worth looking at to see where you stand.
Why Care About Ethical Beekeeping Practices?
If you’ve taken beekeeping as a hobby for reasons other than making it a source of income, you are more likely to be interested in bees. Your approach will be to learn more about these incredible creatures and take good care of them.
Nevertheless, it can be hard to get it right from the start. It always takes time to learn something new, and now that we have access to so much information, things can get a bit confusing.
Researching about ethical practices will help you know the kind of beekeeper you want to be and the reasons you decided to start this fantastic journey.
When I started, I know I was curious about bees and wanted to learn more. I also knew about the decrease in the bee population and how important they are, so I wanted to contribute. (Here is a link to a previous post I wrote about the importance of beekeeping).
Practicing ethical beekeeping will ensure you’ll have a healthy and thriving colony. You will probably enjoy your hobby even more by knowing you are not harming them in the process.
What Practices Can Be Considered Unethical?
Most of the time, commercial and large-scale honey production is associated with an unethical approach to beekeeping, as they tend to place profit and mass production before bees’ wellbeing.
Some of the known ways they achieve this form of mass production are related to:
- The time of the year in which they harvest honey
- The use of oversized hives
- The transportation of hives
- The use of artificial insemination
In a previous post, I mentioned the times to harvest are usually in spring and summer after significant nectar flows, instead of fall and winter when they are preparing to hibernate. However, some honey producers harvest honey during fall, taking away the honey stores meant to feed and keep bees warm during winter.
Taking away these honey stores would likely mean the bees die from starvation or cold. Producers prevent this from happening by using artificial sweeteners or less nutritious preparations that keep them alive but weakens their immune system.
Using Hives That Are Too Big
Oversized hives don’t sound too bad, especially when you compare to other industries that have the habit of cramming animals into tiny spaces for the sake of mass production.
However, keeping bees in oversized hives leads them to work harder – they will fill all that space with honey stores to make sure there is enough food for them during the colder months and insulate the hive and ensure they are kept warm.
Doing this tricks them into producing more honey than needed and makes them work excessively, even to death.
Transporting Bees To Pollinate Commercial Crops
Bees and other insects play a vital role in agriculture as they distribute pollen and promote plants’ reproduction. While this is mostly a natural process, some beekeepers rent their hives, transporting them to various farms to promote pollination in targeted crops.
This activity is called Migratory Beekeeping and it often involves transporting bees long distances which means they will be under stressful conditions that can be detrimental to their health.
While at first glance, artificial insemination can seem like a solution to the decay of the bee population, this practice can have detrimental effects like the weakening of the gene pool.
In their natural environment, when the queen bee is around 6-16 days old, she leaves the hive to meet with thousands of male suitors. Only the strongest and fastest drones will catch up to the queen, and she ends up mating in-flight with just 10-20 drones. This ensures the strongest genes are passed on to the next generation.
Artificial insemination prevents this natural process from happening. Therefore, there is no guarantee the genetic material used for reproduction will be the best. Doing this repeatedly to harvest eggs and create multiple queens puts the wider population of bees at further risk as the overall gene pool will become weaker over time.
How Can You Become A More Ethical Beekeeper?
Probably the best way to ensure you are practicing ethical beekeeping is by researching and learning as much as you can. Find out as much information as you can about bees and how they behave so you know how to best support them.
Avoid the practices outlined previously and make sure you harvest honey during the months where there is enough nectar available to replenish their honey stores. Always take excess honey and make sure you leave enough stores for them to sustain their colony.
Don’t use pesticides that can endanger their health and plant diverse flowering plants and native vegetation in your backyard to promote a nurturing environment for your colony.
How Can You Be A More Ethical Consumer?
As consumers, I think we can push change by making informed decisions regarding the products we buy. Make an intention to only buy honey that has been harvested ethically.
Probably the easiest way to do this is by buying directly from beekeepers. Not only is it less likely they have commercial hives in their backyard, but it is also easier for you to ask about it and discuss their practices with them.
Whether you are keeping bees as a hobby or selling honey and other products, ethical beekeeping can help your colony stay healthy and create a more sustainable activity.
As a consumer, buying ethically produced honey will support those producers who care more about their bees’ wellbeing and promote more ethical practices in the industry.
While you may not get everything right from the very start, researching and educating yourself will give you the tools to improve your practices over time and make a more positive contribution to the environment.
In saying that, your own personal ethics may differ from that of others. The more you know about ethical beekeeping, the easier it will be to determine where your personal opinions lie on the issues at hand.