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Are we taking honey away from the bees?

Bees play a crucial role in our ecological diversity, pollination and plant reproduction. Did you know that almost 80 % of native cultivated and wild plants depend on these useful insects? They therefore provide the food base for countless animal species and humans. Around a third of everything we eat is dependent on bee pollination. Without bees, entire harvests of fruit, vegetables and nuts would fail. They are therefore indispensable for our ecosystem.

However, the diversity of bee species has declined enormously in recent years. This is due to global bee mortality. However, as the demand for honey is still very high, bees are kept in mass breeding.

The exploitation of honey bees

In order to meet the high demand for honey, bees are kept on a mass scale. In conventional beekeeping, so-called magazine boxes are used as artificial hives. The boxes can be opened on one side to provide an easily accessible "honey room". As in the factory farming of pigs or chickens, for example, the housing is very cramped and has nothing to do with the bees' natural living conditions.

The box construction also allows beekeepers to move the hive from place to place in order to have a greater yield of honey, to the benefit of the bees. This is because a change of location is a hugely stressful situation for the bees.

In addition, the queen bee's wings are clipped to bind her to the hive. As a rule, she is then killed after just one year to be replaced by a new, more productive queen. The queens can even be artificially inseminated to lay even more eggs. This reduces the life expectancy of the bees by more than half. Even more in the case of the queen, as she can live up to 5 years in the wild.

How do bees produce honey?

Bees need flower nectar and pollen to survive. The pollen, which the bees collect on their hind legs, provides them with protein and also plays an important role in the pollination of flowers. Nectar is the bees' most important source of food. It reaches the so-called honey stomach via the proboscis. Back in the hive, the nectar is regurgitated and passed on to other worker bees. During this process, the bees' own enzymes are added to the nectar. To produce 1 kg of honey, the bees have to collect around 3 kg of nectar.

However, the beekeeper replaces the honey produced by the bees with a concentrated sugar solution. This does not provide the bees with a complete diet, so the immune system is permanently weakened.

However, there are also beekeepers who focus on a species-appropriate habitat in order to improve the bee population and offer the bees a happy life. In addition, not all the honey is taken away from the bees. You can find out more here: https://www.bienenretter.de/das-projekt/nachhaltig-imkern/

Honey: not so healthy after all?

Honey consists of around 80% sugar (mostly glucose and fructose), 17% water and the remaining 3% contains other components such as proteins, enzymes and micronutrients. From a nutritional point of view, honey is therefore primarily a high-calorie energy supplier for simple carbohydrates. Honey therefore promotes tooth decay and is even more harmful to teeth than normal household sugar, as it sticks to them for longer due to its sticky consistency.

The amounts of vitamins, minerals and proteins contained in honey are so small that they do not make a significant contribution to meeting our needs. Although honey also contains various colorants and flavorings, which in turn contain antioxidant secondary plant substances, this is negligible compared to fruit and vegetables.

Important: Honey can be dangerous for children under the age of one and for immunocompromised people, as it can contain spores of the Clostridium botulinum bacterium.

Wild bee populations are endangered

The importance of wild bees as pollinators has long been underestimated. Wild bees pollinate flowers more successfully and are less likely to get sick. Due to their specialization, wild bees also pollinate plants that honey bees are unable to pollinate due to their physique or leave behind. However, wild bees are of no interest to beekeepers as they produce less honey.

Why are the bees dying? Scientists still cannot say exactly what the cause of the enormous bee mortality is. Various factors probably play a role. What is certain, however, is that humans are heavily involved. Around 300 of the 560 wild bee species in Germany are now on the Red List.

Honey bee

The food supply of wild bees is threatened by honey bees. Honey bees are bred en masse and collect a lot of nectar, which is then taken away from them for human consumption of honey.

Parasites and pathogens

In Germany, bee colonies are primarily infested by the so-called Varroa mite. These suck the fluids out of the bees' bodies and thus impair the immune system. The mite also leaves an open wound so that viruses can penetrate more easily. The mites themselves can also transmit viruses. The combination of a weakened immune system and a viral infection can be fatal for the bees.

Use of pesticides

Pesticides can harm bees because they affect the bees' nervous system, causing disorientation so that the bees can no longer find their way back to the hive. The use of pesticides also has a negative effect on the immune system.

Monocultures in agriculture

Due to the increase in monocultures and the loss of areas where native plants can grow, bees are increasingly lacking a varied diet. As a result, bee malnutrition is on the rise.

Destruction of habitats

Another cause is urbanization, as roads and construction sites are displacing the bees' natural habitat. Every day, 70 hectares of land are destroyed, depriving bees of their livelihoods such as nesting sites and food.

Climate change

Another cause of bee mortality is climate change. Bees have to cope with very unstable environmental conditions: the earlier flowering phases, the longer warm periods in winter and the sudden temperature fluctuations, including extreme weather conditions such as storms and thunderstorms, disrupt the bees' cycle and deplete their energy reserves. In summer, when rainfall drops drastically, the bees also have to cope with long periods of drought.

Tips: What you can do

Replace honey with plant-based alternatives such as agave syrup, rice malt, date syrup and sugar beet syrup Plant bee-friendly flowers in the garden or on the balcony Buy organic, regional and seasonal fruit and vegetables Provide wild bees with species-appropriate nesting aids. You can find out how to build a wild bee hotel yourself here: https://www.bienenretter.de/wildbienenhotel/

Sources: https://www.peta.de/themen/bienensterben/ https://www.bienenretter.de/ https://www.ariwa.org/honig/ https://www.peta.de/themen/honig-von-bienen-aus-der-massenzucht/