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Is Beekeeping Ethical? 6 Things To Know

Beekeeping is an ethical dilemma. Is it right to keep bees in colonies when they can exist on their own? What are the consequences of taking away their freedom?

Is Beekeeping Ethical? There are many things to consider when thinking about beekeeping ethics.

In this blog post, we’ll explore some of the key points to think about when making a decision about whether beekeeping is ethical or not.

What Is Beekeeping?

Bees in a Beehive

Beekeeping is the practice of caring for honey bees in hives. A beekeeper maintains hives of honey bees and collects honey from them.

Honey is the primary product of beekeeping, but beeswax, propolis, pollen, and royal jelly are also products of beekeeping. Pure honey is good for human consumption and can be used like maple syrup, date syrup, sugar water, and even as artificial sweeteners.

Beekeepers use various methods to control pests and diseases in their hives, including selective breeding, medication, destruction of disease-carrying insects, and management of the environment around the hive.

In developed countries with a long history of beekeeping, modern beekeepers often use motorized equipment to move their hives.

Some people also become natural beekeepers by deploying non-motorized and more conventional approaches.

The most common practices include conventional beekeeping, backyard beekeeping, and natural beekeeping.

The History of Beekeeping and Bee Population

Honeybee feeding on a flower

The practice of keeping honey bees is ancient, but it is difficult to trace its exact origins. The oldest evidence of natural beekeeping is the discovery of rock paintings in Spain that depict humans collecting honey from wild bee nests.

These paintings are estimated to be at least 7000-9000 years old.

Beekeeping is believed to have spread to different parts of the world along with human migration. It is currently practiced in every continent except Antarctica.

Years ago, the Chinese are believed to have developed modern beekeeping techniques around 6,500 years ago, which is when they started building beehouses and using enclosed boxes for their bees.

Modern beekeeping is mainly attributed to the European colonial expansion of the 17th-19th centuries.

Beekeeping is now widespread in North and South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa is the region where beekeeping is currently growing the most.

More than 1 million smallholders keep honey bees there, producing certified organic honey and other bee products for their own use or for sale to commercial markets.

The Ethics Of Beekeeping

Beekeeper Showing a Bee Filled Hive

Beekeeping is a controversial topic in the world of animal rights and conservation. Some people say that beekeeping is unethical because it is an exploitative relationship, just like keeping animals captive as pets is.

Others argue that it is essential to ensure the future of our planet’s food needs.

Keeping a bee is a lot like keeping a pet because it is domesticated, and is dependent on its humane keeper for food and shelter.

However, bees have been kept by humans for practical purposes since about 6,000 B.C., so the relationship is not as exploitative as some other captive relationships are.

Honey is not bee vomit, despite what is often claimed.

All the bees within a comb secrete honey by partially digesting nectar and regurgitating it to the hive’s storage area before fanning it with their wings and sealing it with wax to prevent spoilage.

So, beekeeping is a symbiotic relationship for the ecosystem rather than an exploitative one – beneficial for both parties.

Is it morally wrong to take honey from bees?

Bees flying around beehive. Beekeeping concept.

No, it is not morally wrong to take honey from bees. Essential to the future of our planet, honey harvesting is a practice that helps keep colonies thriving.

Do bees see the same world we do?

pollinating bee on flower gathering nectar

Yes, bees see the same world that we do. Bees have eyes, specifically pigmented ommatidia, which is a compound eye made up of multiple lenses for sight. These multiple lenses give them their characteristic “compound eyes” appearance. The ommatidia are connected to the optic nerve, so it is possible for them to form complete images.

Some bee species see the world more colorfully than others.

Bees have five basic types of photoreceptors (ultraviolet, blue, green, red, and yellow), allowing them to see in colors that humans can’t. They can also detect polarized light—light waves that oscillate in a specific direction.

What is the difference between honey and bee pollen?

Galleria mellonella, the greater wax moth or honeycomb moth, is a moth of the family Pyralidae. greater wax moth (Galleria mellonella) parasitization honeybees and results of its work
ihorhvozdetskiy / Adobe Stock

Pure honey is made from nectar that is gathered and modified by bees.

Bee pollen is found within the intestines of worker bees and is only eaten by nurse bees and young larvae, as it is their primary source of food during those developmental stages.

Each pollen is packed full of proteins and it is high in hydrogen, magnesium, and calcium.

It is also believed that bee pollen may help to reduce the effects of hay fever when taken regularly for a few months before the flowering season starts.

Some people say it is as cruel as keeping animals captive as pets, others say that is essential to ensuring the future of our planet’s food supply.

Many people argue that keeping bees is inhumane because it is comparable to keeping animals captive as pets, while others say that it is an essential part of the life cycle of bees.

Worker bees leave their home base in search of food, pollinating crops as they go. In order to survive the harsh winter months, a colony needs a certain amount of food stored up by autumn—that is where beekeepers come into play.

A beekeeper opens the hive, extracts the honey, and closes it up before wintertime.

The major argument is that a beekeeper is stealing from these insects—that is akin to robbing a bank. However, some people say that without the intervention of beekeepers, many of these colonies would die off because they cannot survive on their own during harsh winters.=

What is the benefit of getting involved with beekeeping?

Solar panels with solar trackers adjusting to the sun's position, surrounded by vegetation and flowers

Beekeepers help to ensure that their colony is thriving and well-fed so they can live through even the harshest winter. Beekeeping is a great activity to get involved in as it is not only interesting, but you will also be helping bees survive.

According to Buzz About Bees, “Beards are full of pollen, the bees are stingless and docile, there is no need to move at warp speed when working your hive—and you’re not likely to suffer an allergic reaction.”

Beekeeping is also great for bee pollination. Beekeepers manage the hive so that they can be placed near crops that need pollinating. This is a win-win—bees get a plentiful source of food and farmers to get their crops pollinated.

Tips for Beekeepers

Beekeepers Monitoring Beehives

There are a number of things that beekeepers can do to maintain healthy beehives and get the most honey from their bees.

Some tips for natural beekeepers include:

  1. Make sure the hive is in a good location, with plenty of sun and open space for the bees to fly around.
  2. Keep the hives clean and well-maintained, removing dead bees and other debris regularly.
  3. Feed the bees regularly, especially during times when there is little nectar available.
  4. Avoid using any pesticides or chemicals in the area near your hive.
  5. Harvest honey at the right time, when the bees have had enough time to produce a good crop.
  6. Make sure there is enough honey for the winter so that the hive is strong and healthy for the next year.

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Beekeeping is not easy

Healthy bees in a sunflower field gathering nectar.

Many people think that all you have to do is put a box full of bees in your backyard and voila!—instant honey production.

However, this is not the case at all. Beekeeping is hard work—and it is not for everyone.

A professional beekeeper needs to know how to manage the hive, is able to lift heavy boxes of bees, and is also comfortable with having stings.

What is a bee’s life cycle?

Flowers to attract bees

A female worker bee’s lifespan is only about six weeks during the summertime, but in the winter months, it is extended to several months because there is no need for building or collecting nectar.

This is because the bees spend the winter in their hives, which are warm and snug.

Is beekeeping only for the summertime?

Honeybee feeding on a flower

Not at all! In order to survive the harsh winter months, a colony needs a certain amount of food stored up by autumn. That is where beekeepers come into play. A beekeeper opens the hive, extracts the honey, and closes it up before wintertime.

What is another benefit of beekeeping?

One great thing about beekeeping is that you get to sample all of the delicious products! Not only can you eat honey (which is packed full of health benefits), but pollen is also a nutritious product that is incredible for your health.

What are the best safety practices for conventional beekeeping?

Bees in a Beehive

The best safety practices for beekeepers are to always wear a veil when working with bees, to use smoker fuel sparingly, and to avoid excessive movement when handling bees.

When working with bees, it is important to always wear a veil so that you protect your face and head from stings. It is also important to use smoker fuel sparingly, as excessive smoke can irritate the bees and cause them to sting. Also, ensure that you use ethical practices when maintaining your honeybee population. Would you do what you do to them as you do to a family member?

Finally, it is important to avoid excessive movement when handling bees, as this can provoke them into attacking.

Beekeepers should also make sure that there is no open food or drink nearby while working with the bees, as this is an open invitation for them to sting whatever is available.

Finally, beekeepers should avoid handling newly acquired bees or hives because they are more likely to be aggressive due to the stress of being transported.

What are the indications that a beehive is ready for harvest?

Close up view of the working bees on honey cells
Dmytro Smaglov / Adobe Stock

There are a few indications that a beehive is ready for harvest. One is that the honey will start to crystallize and the bees will cap the cells with wax. Another indication is when there are little or no new bees being born, which means the hive is not growing.

When these signs are noticed, it’s important to harvest the honey sooner rather than later to ensure that the bee colony stays healthy.

It can take up to five pounds of honey to keep a colony of 50,000 bees alive for one month, so it’s important to leave enough honey in the hive so they can survive during winter.

Can you take native bees from the wild?

Bees flying around beehive. Beekeeping concept.

There is some debate about whether it is ethical to take honeybees from the wild.

Some say that is just fine since there is no real detriment to the hive or colony in question except for removing a few members.

Others argue that is akin to taking people out of their homes and putting them into zoos or other captive situations.

People often take hives from the wild to use as starter colonies for new beekeepers, especially if they are novice beekeepers that are not ready to buy a pre-assembled package of bees.

However, is also important to know that is not ethical to remove honeybees from public parks because it can have detrimental effects on the local ecosystem.

How is beekeeping different from keeping other animals in captivity?

Beekeepers will often compare keeping bees to keeping other animals, such as dogs or cats.

However, there is a big difference between this comparison and keeping other types of livestock in captivity because honeybees are not domesticated animals in the same way dogs and cats are.

Honeybees have been kept in captivity for so long that is believed they have lost the ability to survive in the wild. While keeping dogs or cats is a way to meet their needs for shelter, food, and affection, it is often impractical to provide these same things for honeybees.

Honeybees also don’t tend to show the same signs of affection towards their owners as domesticated pets, which is one key reason why beekeeping is often considered an unethical activity.

Is it possible to keep honey bees without collecting their honey?

2 hand towel, jar with oil, 2 soaps placed on a table

It is certainly possible to keep bees without collecting their honey or harming them in any way, but this is generally not done by commercial beekeepers as it is very difficult to make a living this way.

Some would-be beekeepers will attempt to do so, but they generally find that they need to supplement their income with other activities.

Some commercial beekeepers may keep bees in “soybean fields” and only allow them access to the soybeans for a short period of time. This is often still considered an unethical practice because it is a form of animal cruelty to deny bees access to the proper nutrition they need.

Is beekeeping necessary to ensure the future of food?

Group of Volunteers Helping in a Local Community Food Bank, Handing Out Free Food to People in Need in a Park on a Sunny Day
Gorodenkoff / Adobe Stock

Many people believe that is absolutely necessary to keep honeybees alive and thriving for the future of the food supply, as one-third of the food on store shelves is reliant on insect pollination. Thus, it is important for bee colonies to survive so they can contribute to the global food supply.

The role of honeybees is so crucial that there are some people who believe it is ethical to keep bees in captivity if it is done solely for this purpose.

However, many argue that is not ethical to keep bees in captivity at all, as is a form of animal cruelty.


Beekeeper Holding a Beehive

While is beekeeping is not for everyone, it can be very rewarding to work with these insects.

It is important that beekeepers follow proper ethical guidelines if they choose to keep bees as pets or use them commercially any time is beekeeping is not for everyone, it can be very rewarding to work with these insects.


1. Is beekeeping is an exploitative relationship or is it essential to our food supply?

Beekeepers use their bees to produce honey and other products for sale.

Therefore, some people say that the relationship between a beekeeper and a colony is exploitative. Just like you can’t pick up a dog by its tail, some people think it is cruel to pick up a bee in your bare hands.

However, it is estimated that there are over 1 million beekeepers all over the world.

This is not an insignificant number of colonies being used for human benefit. Bees can also be seen as part of the food chain by pollinating plants that humans consume. Therefore, is beekeeping is an exploitative relationship or is it essential to our food supply?

2. Is beekeeping is cruel because of the transportation process?

Backyard beekeepers or commercial beekeepers need to move their hives from one place to another. When they do this, some bees are killed in the process.

The use of smoke is one way that beekeepers calm their bees before moving them.

Some people say that this is cruel to the bees because it is like suffocating them, while others say that is essential for keeping honey bee colonies calm during transportation.

3. Are native bees killed when beekeepers extract too much honey?

Honey is the primary product of beekeeping, but some would argue that you can’t simply take as much as you want from a colony without consequences.

In fact, take too much honey and bees will have to go hungry for a long time until there is enough honey coming in to sustain the hive.

4. Are beekeepers responsible for the declining native bee populations?

Bees are considered to be a keystone species because they help fertilize so many different types of plants. If bees disappear, it is estimated that 35% of the world’s crops will also disappear.

Thus, some people argue that beekeepers are responsible for the decline in bee populations. Colonies are often transported all over the world to provide pollination services, but this is said to be one factor leading to the decline in bee populations.

5. Is it ethical to keep wild bees for pets?

Some people argue that is unethical to keep honeybees as pets. In some ways, the relationship is similar to keeping a dog as a pet because you are benefitting from their labor and they have limited freedom.

Additionally, is it fair for humans to take the honey that is needed for a bee’s survival?

6. Are bees with Africanized “killer” traits more ethical than regular bees?

As we mentioned earlier, honeybees are keystone species and they help fertilize 35% of the world’s crops. However, some honeybee populations have been overtaken by what is called “killer bee” traits.

These bees are more aggressive and protective of their hives because they don’t want to start over and build a new one after it is destroyed by humans, which is what is happening in some parts of the world.

This is said to make them more ethical than regular honeybees because they die sooner after stinging somebody. However, other people argue that is not ethical because they are still dying.

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