The CTSI argues that since a legal definition of vegan does not exist, food businesses could consider products that contain animal ingredient traces from manufacturing processes to be vegan and label them as such.
“There is also a degree of uncertainty among businesses as to what claims they can make about vegan foods, and what requirements they must follow to confidently label a food as vegan,” states the report.
Is it vegan?
The report includes data from Hampshire and Kent Scientific Services showing that many vegan products have traces of egg or dairy, including various chocolates, pizza, muffins, vegetable curry, corn puffs, shortbread, and cakes. According to The Guardian, more detailed data from the scientific services reveals that one in three UK vegan products (39%) contains traces of milk or eggs.
As demand for vegan food increases, legalising its meaning is essential for consumers, says the organisation. In the UK, according to the Vegetarian Society, 4.5% of the UK population follows a meat-free diet, with 1.5% classing themselves as vegan. Moreover, the CTSI’s public polling has found that more than three-quarters of consumers said they believed that food labelled as vegan should be completely free of animal ingredients.
A risk for people with food allergies
This lack of legal clarity could potentially endanger individuals with food allergies (1 in 6 people) that choose vegan products precisely because they believe them to be free from animal-derived allergens.
The report gives an example of the consequences of undeclared allergens: Celia Marsh passed away in 2017 after consuming a vegan wrap from the food chain Pret a Manger. The product was labelled vegan but contained milk protein due to cross-contamination during production.
Since consumers need more clarity and protection, and food companies are the ones responsible for labelling, the CTSI is calling for a legal definition of vegan food, along with business guidance on labelling and consumer awareness of animal-derived ingredients such as pepsin or elastin.
“As well as causing confusion for consumers and businesses, the lack of legal definition could be exploited by unethical food businesses claiming foods are vegan, when in fact they contain animal-derived products,” said John Herriman, CEO of the CTSI, in a statement.meat eggs milk protein plant-based