Bumblebees and Bumbly Vegans

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There is a growing trend in Europe and America toward veganism, a diet characterized by the avoidance of animal products. Many report health benefits from a plant-only diet, while others suggest this diet is unhealthy and leaves people malnourished. But a primary motive for some vegans (“a person who does not eat or use animal products”) is not nutrition but ethics: it is viewed as immoral to exploit animals, including insects.

However well-intentioned this sentiment might be, it is interesting to note that humans would not possess the liberty to wean themselves from animal-product dependency if we had not concocted a host of chemical and petroleum industries to displace those erstwhile animal products. (Amazingly, scientists have even created a yeast that replicates milk in an industrial vat without ever involving a cow.)

It may be that bees suffer stress by being maintained in factory farms. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) proclaims that “...many beekeepers take inhumane steps to ensure personal safety.” The Vegan Society declares: “During the removal of honey, the bees can die after stinging the farmers.” Both organizations argue that all humans should stop eating honey.

PETA also extolls the consciousness of insects, and bewails the factory treatment of queen bees, humanizing them graphically on its website: “It’s not unusual for larger honey producers...to have [the queen bee] artificially inseminated on a bee-sized version of the factory farm “rape rack.” ” There is probably some dramatic cockamamee documentary in the works to exploit this exploitation, named “Beespiracy” or “The Drone Files” or “The Tragic Life of Betty The Queen Bee.”

Rather than conjure inflammatory fictions of imaginary torture racks, has PETA examined the absurdity of its position? Because neither PETA nor the Vegan Society advocate for organic plant consumption. That means their ethic prohibits “exploitation” of animals, but not of their extermination. Because if a person (even a vegan person) eats wheat or corn harvested conventionally, they are actively contributing not to the death of a handful of genetically-selected, human-bred bees who stung their captor, but to the unfolding extinction event affecting wild honey bees. Neonicotinoids, a group of pesticides used in corn and other industrial crops, have been demonstrated to contribute to bee die-off. So has glyphosate, the nasty agent in Round-up that has been soaked into our soils here in Vermont, usually as a close companion to the genetically modified corn that contains Bt toxin and/or has been marinated in neonicotinoids.

Vegans point to the competition from commercial beehives with wild bees as a reason to boycott honey, yet after devastating die-offs of wild bees from chemical exposure, those commercial bees continue pollinating (though less efficiently). Few groups have the money and scale to study for causes and cures of honeybee harm: the bee industry invests much more in this research than government does (and China has invested twice as much as America, by some estimates). Buying honey supports research for solutions to sudden colony die-off, doesn’t it? But meanwhile, vegans are killing bees -- and the planet -- by supporting chemical use in wheat, corn and other crops.

There is a lack of critical thinking in modern humans: perhaps those agro-chemicals are seeping into our brains. It’s quaint that PETA and vegans want to believe that they are setting an example for the rest of us on how to save the world, while they fail to challenge the mass chemical toxification of the ecosystem through the industrial-produced plants they eat. But that’s what makes vegans “bumbly,” which the urban dictionary defines as “a person who is clumsy, out of it, etc., but also manages to be adorable.”

The scientific evidence is mounting that steady increases in chemical applications to food crops, including the use of glyphosate as a dessicant just prior to harvest in wheat and potato crops, is killing off the planet’s insects, including our vital pollinators (see “Scientists warn of ‘ecological Armageddon’ after study shows flying insect numbers plummeting 75%,” www.independent.co.uk, October 19, 2017). It may already be too late to reverse this damage, but surely it is not too late to try -- by banning pesticides, not honey.

So bumbly vegans, get off your high horses (without exploiting them or upsetting them emotionally), and either make that tofu organic or drink honey in your chai tea. Otherwise your fad is just a fad, and you are still killing bees -- and earthworms and butterflies to boot.

Originally published with The Newport Daily Express, 10/27/2017