This Slate article on honey and veganism makes some good points: most notably about the inconsistency between refusing honey on ethical grounds and accepting fruit that is pollinated by domesticated bees. Not eating anything that requires bee labour for production rules out “almonds, avocados, broccoli, canola, cherries, cucumbers, lettuce, peaches, pears, plums, sunflowers, and tomatoes.” In theory, one might be able to find some of these things grown only with the assistance of naturally occurring pollinators, but I doubt it is something most honey-shunning vegans have even considered.
My personal position, as described before, is that there is no fundamental problem with using animals for food. The problems arise when it is done in an environmentally unsustainable, unhygienic, or morally unacceptable way. The latter condition means that, when animals above a certain threshold of sentience are involved, they cannot be treated in a way fundamentally contrary to their nature. In the case of bees, I would argue that they fall below the sentience threshold. While it is impossible to determine, at this time, whether they are capable of experiencing suffering, forming complex thoughts, and so forth, it seems plausible to conclude that they generally cannot, and are thus more on par with protozoans, plants, and fungi than with complex animals. I don’t claim that this moral code is entirely comprehensive or internally consistent, but it presently strikes an acceptable balance between my level of concern and the amount of time I am willing to spend pondering such questions and taking actions required in order to not contravene them.
In addition to honey, I generally disagree with the vegan objection to wool. There doesn’t seem to be any fundamental cruelty or desecration involved in the shearing of sheep, though I should probably investigate the conditions in which sheep used for wool production are raised and live.
More on food, ethics, and the environment:
- Manifestos on the Future of Food & Seed
- In Defense of Food
- Meat, methane, and global warming
- Meat eating and ignorance
- E. Coli and the acid rumen
- Meat and antibiotics
- Diseases and factory farming
There are many more, but that list should get the curious reader started.