You can find the blogpost and discussion here: vegansoapbox: regarding bees and honey
To make things clear: I hold the view that insects in principle don't feel pain and don't have any interests to take into account. Therefore they don't have rights.
I come to this conclusion in part through the argument of analogy and part through a text by Steve Sapontzis.
The text regarding this question, is only available in french as far as I know. I will provide translations while quoting to make things easier.
Cahiers antispecistes: Steve Sapontzis
By the way: for anyone who speaks french. This site is a good ressource on animal rights theory. Check it out!
According to Sapontzis:
Ainsi, le critère qui détermine si un être est en ce sens moral un « animal » n'est pas le même que le critère biologique qui distingue la faune de la flore.
Here he makes a distinction between the meaning of the word 'animal' in the ethical/moral sense and the biological sense.
Suivant ce critère, proposé semble-t-il la première fois par Leonard Nelson dans A System of Ethics, tous les êtres qui ont des intérêts, et eux seuls, peuvent détenir des droits moraux
In short this states that only those living creatures that have 'interests' can have rights.
Quant aux insectes et aux plantes, tous ceux parmi eux qui satisfont au critère de possession d'intérêts doivent être inclus dans les préoccupations du mouvement de libération animale, si ses partisans se veulent cohérents. Cependant, à ce jour, il n'existe aucune donnée sérieuse montrant que les plantes possèdent des sensations de bien-être - en parlant de données sérieuses nous excluons les trop connus rapports sur la « vie secrète des plantes ».
Summary: When it comes to insects and plants, those among them that would have interests (as in: able to experience pain) have to be taken into consideration.
Until today there is no serious evidence that plants feel pain... According to Sapontzis the question is less clear with insects (but I disagree there, it doesn't seem unclear to me).
But from what I could gather while reading this text, he isn't convinced either that insects feel pain.
Steve Sapontzis further states the following:
Si parmi les animaux non humains il en existe qui possèdent des intérêts, alors les animaux que le mouvement des droits des animaux cherche aujourd'hui à libérer (tels les porcs, singes, ours, chevaux, etc.) en possèdent certainement. Une fois qu'auront été réglées les questions actuellement débattues concernant la manière dont nous devons (moralement) traiter ces animaux-là, le moment sera peut-être venu de nous demander si les insectes possèdent des droits moraux, s'il faut les libérer, et quelle forme doit prendre un tel code moral éclairé. Le fait de mettre en avant la question des insectes avant que ces problèmes actuels n'aient été résolus ne représente rien d'autre qu'une tentative d'éviter de faire face aux questions bien claires et réelles qui se posent.
Summary: Here he basically says that we shouldn't concern ourselves at the moment with the question of whether insects have rights or not. We should focus first and foremost on the other animals of which we absolutely know for sure. And once we have resolved all the issues concerning apes, pigs, chickens and so forth, then we can worry about the insects as a movement.
Now, I do agree with Sapontzis his distinction between the word animal in the biological sense and the ethical sense. To me it seems clear that it is the ethical sense of the word that is important when it comes to ethical vegetarianism/veganism.
So, are bees (or other insects) animals in the moral sense? I would say no. We know vertebrates feel. How do we know: because they have central a nervous system, a brain... The have the same structures we have that enable us to feel and experience.
Through the argument of analogy it seems only plausible to accept that animals that have the same basic 'systems' or 'hardware' also feel pain, have emotions and so on. There is no doubt about that when we take mammals into account.
When it comes to pain, stress, ... We can state with confidence that chickens, turkeys, ducks and other birds feel too.
But the futher we follow the evolutionary tree, the more difficult it - evidently - becomes to use the argument of analogy.
When we arrive at the world of bugs and other invertebrates, there is almost no evidence that these animals (in the biological sense of the word) actually feel anything. They do respond to their surroundings and do have some nerves, but so do plants, in order to react to their environment.
I haven't seen any evidence that insects feel pain. We can't forget that invertebrates also followed a different evolutionary path then vertebrates. Which is quite obvious when we examine the neural structure of the two groups. Ours is centralized, while this is not the case for inverterbrates. Amongst inverterbrates however there are also big differences in neural structures. One of the few invertebrates of which I am quite confident to state that they have interests is an octopus, thanks to their ganglionic brain that is far more complex then that of other invertebrates. But of course this is a sea creature and something very different from an insect like an ant or a bee.
Also important to note is that insects shouldn't only have some structures that are capable of transmitting 'pain signals', but they also need to be sentient. Sentient in the meaning of: being able to perceive conciously.
Here is a concise text that reflects some of my thoughts concerning this discussion:
insects and pain
Pain is defined by the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) as “An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage”3. The subjective, emotional component of pain is considered its important aspect, not the activation of pain sensors (nociceptors) in the body. The IASP makes this clear “Activity induced in the nociceptive pathways by a noxious stimulus is not pain, which is always a psychological state, even though we may appreciate that pain most often has a proximate physical cause”.
I'll make my views on vegetarianism/veganism clear in other posts...And maybe I'll elaborate further on this insect discussion in the future.