|Friday, 2 August 2002|
The goodness of bees honey
by Dr. D. P. Atukorale
Bees Honey occupies an equivocal place in vegetarian cooking and ayurvedic medicine. Its proponents ascribe health giving properties. But those who are opposed to all types of animal cruelty and exploitation notably vegans oppose honey on the grounds that production of honey involves suffering and even death to the insects who manufacture the honey.
Chemically honey is a mixture of glucose, fructose and water. The bee gathers plant nectar a kind of sweet sap secreted by flowers, for eventual use as a food for larva. During this process the bee also serves the function of pollinating the plant. When the bee's honey sac is full it returns to the hive and disgorges it into the cells of the honeycomb. Natural evaporation concentrates the sweetness of the plant nectar and the bee adds two enzymes, one to create a different type of sugar and another to prevent bacterial infection.
Bees are also used to produce a range of other health products including royal jelly (a substance secreted by worker bees and fed to future queen bees (for which extravagant health claims have been made by drug firms) and propolis (a waxy resinous substance collected by the bees from the buds of various conifers and used to repair the cracks and openings in the hive).
There is some truth in the assertion by the drug companies and vendors of honey products that honey possesses health giving properties. It is known that honey has been used for wound dressing for over 4000 years. The honey and sugar can prevent or hinder bacterial growth on wounds by a process of osmotic action. The enzymes of honey also can produce hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), a powerful antimicrobial agent and there is evidence that some types of bees honey contain antibacterial substances produced by the flowers that the bees have visited.
The average bees hive contain about 60,000 bees and produce about 8 gallons of honey every year. The shear effect involved in this is quite astonishing. To produce 450 G (1 lb) of honey, bees have to gather about 1.8 Kg (4 lbs) of nectar, which means visiting 2 million flowers. Furthermore each worker bee has an average life span of only 3-6 weeks just long enough to collect about one teaspoonful of nectar.
Connoisseurs of honey claim that it is possible to detect differences in taste between the various types of flowers visited by the bees, the more popular varieties being acacia, alafa, buckwheat, clover, heather, lavender, lime and orange blossom. In practice it would be unusual for bees to collect nectar from one exclusive plant.
Commercial honey production is a very large scale enterprise and accordingly techniques of mass production are used. Honey bees live in artificial hives designed to facilitate the easy removal of the combs. When these are removed and returned to the hive after even with the utmost care, bees will be crushed and killed.
Bees are transported all round the world where they will face new diseases and new enemies and alien environmental conditions. This once again is unnatural and is bound to cause stress and casualties.
When it is necessary to destroy a hive either because of disease or simply because it is too expensive to keep the colonies going in the harsh winter of the more northerly countries. This is done by pouring petrol over the hive, fumes from which kill most of the bees.
The queen bee is obviously of paramount importance both to the hive and beekeeper. To prevent swarming of bees the queen's wings are removed. Although queen would naturally live for about 5 years in the wild, in commercial production, the queen bee will be killed off as her fertility declines usually at the age of 2 or soon afterwards. Not content with the bee's natural techniques of procreation, large scale beekeeping now increasingly resorts to the technique of artificial insemination, a process which necessarily involves close physical handling and resulting discomfort.
Bee is an extremely intelligent creature with a sophisticated language and complex forms of communication which are one of the most advanced of any of the animal species. It has a brain and several smaller ganglia (sub brains) running through the body and its capacity to experience pain and distress is beyond dispute (Amanda Rofe, the Honey Bee, The Vegan, Summer 1992).
Another sobering reality of bees honey is the possibility of contamination with agrochemicals. If the bees are kept near agriculturally active land, possibility of such contamination cannot be excluded.
Nutritional value of honey
One cup of honey (339g) contains 279 g of carbohydrate, 1.02 g of protein, 3.39 mg of vitamin C, 0.02 mg of thiamine, 0.14 mg of riboflavin, 1.02 mg of nicotinic acid, 17 mg of calcium and 1.7 mg of iron. For vegans who don't use honey there are many substitutes such as molasses, maple syrup, barley malted syrup, and treacle of which molasses is the healthiest.
Courtesy: Guide To Vegetarian Living
Produced by Lake House