woensdag 7 oktober 2015

To bee or not to bee?

Terwijl in Nederland de dagen korter en natter worden, is hier in Australië net de zomertijd ingegaan en probeer ik deze week te studeren terwijl het 35 graden is. Ja, je leest het goed: ik ben op uitwisseling aan de andere kant van de wereld! Het is één groot geweldig avontuur vol doldwaze belevenissen, trips en avonturen. Maar bovenal ben ik hier als uitwisselingsstudent, en heb ik de gelegenheid om supertoffe vakken te volgen aan de University of New South Wales in Sydney. Eén van de vakken die ik volg is Environmental Advocacy & Activism, waarin ik niet alleen leer om campagnes te analyseren maar natuurlijk ook om zelf succesvol campagne te voeren voor een mooiere wereld! Wat wil je nog meer? :-)

Mijn eerste opdracht voor dit vak was... een blogpost schrijven! Het mocht een onderwerp naar keuze zijn. Na enig wikken en wegen besloot ik uiteindelijk om te focussen op honing. Iets wat nogal eens misgaat bij mensen die niet bekend zijn met veganisme, is dat mensen vergeten dat honing geen plantaardig product is. Sowieso zijn bijen een actueel onderwerp als het op milieu aankomt gezien hun bedreigde status... alle reden om er eens dieper op in te gaan!

Het zou zonde zijn om het resultaat van mijn opdracht niet te delen op mijn eigen blog, dus bij deze kun je lezen waarom honing niet vegan is en of het milieu erbij gebaat is als mensen honing consumeren.

To bee or not to bee?
Alynda Kok, 27 August 2015

Imagine you’re having a cookout with your best friend, who recently turned vegan after seeing the documentary ‘Food Inc’. You know that vegans refrain from consuming any product of animal origin, so you’ve searched for appropriate recipes. You’ve ended up making bean burgers with a BBQ-honey sauce. While your friend devours the burgers, you notice that he isn’t actually having any of the sauce. When you ask him about this, he informs you that he no longer eats honey either. Wait – is honey an animal product? You’ve never thought about that. While you’re considering this, you wonder: aren’t bees threatened with extinction? And aren’t we dependent on bee pollination for our food production? So shouldn’t we breed as many bees as we can and consume honey as if our lives depend on it?

Veganism can be defined as ‘living on the products of the plant kingdom, excluding all animal-derived products’. This includes honey, which isn’t just a product that we gather from flowers: to produce honey, a bee swallows a drop of nectar from a flower, vomits, and repetitively chews on it before swallowing it again. During this process of regurgitating, which takes about 15 to 20 minutes for each single drop, the nectar is mixed with digestive enzymes which transform it into honey (Needham, n.d.).

Most people find it hard to empathize with animals that are very different from us, such as invertebrates, and thus hardly take into account the well-being of tiny, fuzzy creatures such as bees. Besides, bees are commonly known for their painful stings, which leads people to categorize them as ‘bad’ animals, according to the sociozoologic classification of animals (Clark, 2015). So what’s the harm if we just take some of the surplus honey that bees produce?
Although it is a wonder that these tiny animals make a product that is so palatable for humans, honey actually functions as winter food for bees. Like so, there is no surplus of honey; beekeepers have to replace the extracted honey with sugar water in order to keep the bees alive, but this doesn’t contain all the nutrients that bees need. Furthermore, honey is not simply collected. To prevent beekeepers from being stung during the process of honey extraction, they smoke out the hives, which calms the bees. In addition, beekeepers clip the wings of their bees to ensure that they don’t leave the designated hive, and in the process inspecting the hive and extracting honey bees are squashed and killed. As they have a large nervous system that is capable of transmitting pain signal, bees – like any other animal – do actually experience pain (Snodgrass, 1956).

It is obvious that, on the individual level, harvesting honey is a harmful process for the honeybee. But don’t we need these tiny creatures to pollinate the agricultural crops that we depend on for our food supply? As Schmiddt & Buchman (1992) described, the bees that produce honey are not the same bees used for commercial pollination; honeybees simply cannot feed themselves, produce surplus honey and engage in commercial pollination all at once. As a matter of fact, a reduction in honeybee populations would actually have a positive impact on the environment, since honeybees only pollinate around 20% of all wild plants. Furthermore, honeybees crowd out native bee species who are doing a better job at pollination than the honeybee (Roubik, 1996). Unfortunately, many organisations, such as the USDA, focus almost exclusively on promoting honeybees as pollinators. If we were to rely fully on honeybees for crop pollination, this would be problematic for other reasons, such as their vulnerability to the spread of diseases.

So what would be the best way to save bees from extinction? As it turns out, consuming honey doesn’t do the honeybee much good. As commonly used pesticides are considered a major threat to bees (Suryanarayanan & Kleinman, 2012), we should instead focus on diminishing the use of these toxins. Buy organic produce as often as possible, plant a blooming garden with a variety of plants and provide clean water for nearby bees to enjoy. This will not only aid the well-being of bees, but will also attract and support other vital pollinators.

Clark, J.L. (2015). Uncharismatic Invasiveness. Environmental Humanities, 6, 29 – 52.
Needham, C. (n.d.). Bumble Barf Honey. Retrieved from http://www.sciencefictionmuseum.com/readingroom/fyi/fyi008.html at 21/08/2015
Roubik, D. (1996). The Conservation of Bees. In A. Matheson et al (eds). New York: Academic Press.
Suryanarayanan, S. & Kleinman, D.L. (2012). Be(e)coming experts: The controversy over insecticides in the honey bee collapse disorder. Social studies of science, 43(2), 215 – 240.
doi: 10.1177/0306312712466186
Schmidt, J. & Buchmann, S. (1992). Other Products of the Hive. The Hive and the honey bee. In J. Graham (ed). Hamilton, IL: Dadant.
Snodgrass, R. (1956). Anatomy of the Honey Bee. Ithaca, NY: Comstock Publishing Associates.