Originally Posted by bearplate
Like many things, it's not so black and white.
Officially I think the answer would be no. Vegans avoid animal products. However, bees are a vital part of our food supply since they pollinate our crops. Even if you don't eat honey commercial bees are being used in your food production.
The bees are making it for themselves, but beekeepers take some (not all) of the honey. However, there are times when it would be necessary to feed them sugar water (or "candy boards"); periods of darth (nothing is blooming), when setting up a new hive since it wouldn't have a honey store yet, and possibly overwinter if they don't have enough stored up. They can get sick or suffer from mites, but the same is true for wild bees.
Selling the honey isn't necessary for commercial beekeepers to make a living, most of their money comes from pollination services (loading hives onto trucks and moving them from one field to another).
I think Dilettante brought up some good points. Unfortunately, it's impossible to live without killing other beings (accidentally, pesticides, harvesting,...) And do bees suffer?
Maybe some other things to consider would be if eating honey is healthy or necessary.
The pollination of crops is an integral part of our food supply, but it can hardly be compared to eating bees' food supply. Eating food pollinated by bees is vegan, but eating honey is no more vegan than drinking cows' milk.
I'm not proud of it, but I worked one year- spring, summer and fall- as a beekeeper's assistant, and saw first-hand how it's done. It was basically a mom and pop operation: he did the field work, while she kept the books. He hired one man (me) as a helper, and in late-summer hired two other guys, part-time, to run the extraction process- the cutters, centrifuge, etc.
He kept about 1000 hives, arranged into 'yards,' each yard composed of about 30-hives, spread over a 3-county area. Local farmers were happy to provide a small patch of ground for one of his yards, knowing their crops would benefit from the bees' presence.
First, the hives, which were small at that point, were uncovered from their winter wraps. The beekeeper went into every single hive, until he located its queen-bee, and inspected her. Any queen-bee that was adjudged to be too small or weak was systematically destroyed, literally smashed underfoot, and replaced with a new queen-bee, obtained from a mail-order house that breeds queens for just that purpose. Roughly half (about 500) of the queen-bees were killed this way, in the interest of a more efficient operation. We also fed the bees a corn syrup mixture. The corn syrup is bought in bulk, watered down, and carried in a tank on a small flat-bed truck.
After a brief mating season, the hives begin to grow. We would add boxes to the existing hives, as the colonies required more room. By harvest time, many of the hives were taller than the men working them.
The beekeeper only supplemented his income by "renting out" bees. In early summer, he sent one load of bees from Wisconsin to California. The living hives- hundreds of them- were loaded onto a flat-bed semi-trailer, covered over with a tarp, then trucked at high speed (70 m.p.h.) almost 2000-miles, over two mountain ranges, to some almond groves out west. After a month or two, when the pollination was done, they were shipped back, the same way, so any honey produced could be collected.
At one point, a queen-bee and her colony escaped her hive and established a natural one in a nearby wood. The beekeeper tracked them down, sawed off the tree branch, on which they had set up house, carried it back to the bee-yard, and forced them back into the artificial hive.
Many times, whole hives were adjudged to be ill, and had to be medicated. This is accomplished by dusting inside the hive with a fine antibacterial powder, which the bees either ingest, or else absorb through the skin, or through the eyes.
It's the bees' natural instinct to defend their hive from intruders. This is why beekeepers are obliged to wear protective clothing. A bee can sting just once. When it jabs its barbed stinger into a foe, the stinger pulls the bee's lower abdomen from its body, spilling her intestines. When a bee stings, it gives its life, defending its home. They are not normally aggressive, but attack in self-defense. They do not surrender their honey voluntarily, but do what they can to protect it.
The beekeeper didn't take just some of the honey. He took almost all of it. That year, I had occasion to meet several other beekeepers, who worked adjoining areas. I had the distinct impression I was working for an "average" honey operation- not too big, not too small. That summer was unusually cool and damp, so honey production was low. When we were done, we had harvested not quite 5000-gallons of raw honey. On average, that's almost 5-gallons per hive, leaving precious little for the bees. It was then sold in bulk, in 55-gallon drums, to a major food corporation, who came and trucked it away.
The last thing we did, was to re-wrap the hives- now small again- in tar paper, against the approaching winter cold. This included feeding the bees, what few that remained alive, one last time with corn syrup, to help them survive.
I'm not an expert on the honey industry, but it will be hard to convince me it's some sort of happy, symbiotic cooperation between man and insect. The bees understand no more how they're being exploited than do the cows that are milked. It's done for one reason alone. Money.
Bees can be encouraged- even helped- to pollinate our crops, but that doesn't mean we have to extract from them the price we do. People can live very easily, without eating honey.