Currently, there is no legal definition of whether food sold as vegan or plat-based can contain ingredients such as milk or other animal-derived products.
While the vegan moniker suggests that a product does not contain any ingredients of animal origin, it does not account for traces of these products from making their way into vegan foods. Nothing in the law says these products have to be completely clear of animal-derived ingredients.
“As well as causing confusion for consumers and businesses, the lack of legal definition could be exploited by unethical food businesses claiming foods are as vegan, when in fact they contain animal-derived products,” said CTSI chief executive John Herriman.
Disastrous and tragic consequences
“Perhaps of greater concern is that this ambiguity can have disastrous and sometimes tragic consequences for those with allergies to animal-derived products, like milk and eggs. We are aware that people have sadly lost their lives because of this and are therefore calling for more clarity on what can and can’t legally be described as vegan and plant-based food.”
Sampling data supplied by Hampshire and Kent Scientific Services showed several products labelled as ‘vegan’ or ‘plant-based' contained milk or eggs, suggesting many people following a vegan diet are likely to have unknowingly eaten products derived from an animal.
Milk and eggs are also two ingredients included in the list of 14 major allergens that need to be mentioned on the label when they are used as ingredients in a food.
Public polling by the CTSI found that more than three-quarters of consumers (76.4%) ‘incorrectly’ believed food products labelled as vegan did not contain any animal products, even in very small amounts.
Allergen ambiguity of vegan foods
“Perhaps of greater concern is that this ambiguity can have disastrous and sometimes tragic consequences for those with allergies to animal-derived products, like milk and eggs,” Herriman added.
“We are aware that people have sadly lost their lives because of this and are therefore calling for more clarity on what can and can’t legally be described as vegan and plant-based food.”
The CTSI hoped the application of a new legal definition for vegan foods would make any manufacturer or restaurant flouting the rules could be held accountable and provide clarity for those with allergies over whether or not food labelled as vegan is safe to eat.
CTSI Lead Officer for Food and Nutrition, David Pickering, said: “As more consumers choose to eat food with no animal-derived ingredients it is important to establish what, as a society, we want that to mean.
“This research has evidenced that consumers think that food described as suitable for a vegan diet means it will be free of animal-derived ingredients. CTSI asks that this is reflected in the legal framework for selling food so that consumers can make informed choices and food businesses have clarity about what the phrase means.”