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Lack of vegan food legal definition could cost lives, CTSI warns

Posted: 13 July 2023 | | No comments yet

In its new report, the Chartered Trading Standards Institute has warned that the lack of legal definition for vegan food puts those with allergies at risk.

vegan burger

The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) has published a report which has expressed concern about the lack of legal definition for vegan food.

It has claimed in the report that the lack of legal definition “potentially [puts] people with allergies at risk, as well as causing confusion for consumers and businesses”.

Currently, there is no legal definition of whether food sold as plant-based or vegan can contain ingredients such as milk or other animal-derived products. CTSI views this as something that “[leaves] vegans and allergy sufferers in the dark” about what is legally allowed in their food.

In it’s report CTSI has warned that it is “more important than ever” that consumers can be confident that if should they decide to adopt a vegan diet, they can be assured that foods labelled as vegan do not contain animal-derived products.

“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,” said David Pickering, CTSI Lead Officer for Food and Nutrition.

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.”

Around two million people in the UK live with food hypersensitivity, according to the Food Standards Agency). In its report, CTSI highlighted that “vegan” products “can be a particular issue for people with allergies to animal-based products such as lactose”.

Utilising sampling data supplied by Hampshire and Kent Scientific Services revealed that several products labelled as ‘vegan’ or ‘plant-based’ contained milk or eggs, consequently meaning those following a vegan diet “are likely to have unknowingly eaten products derived from an animal”, according to CTSI.

In fact, the Institute’s public polling revealed that 76.4 percent of consumers incorrectly believe that food products labelled as vegan do not contain any animal products, even in very small amounts. However, CTSI has said that as there is currently no legal definition of vegan food, it believes there is “nothing to prevent trace amounts of animal-derived products from appearing in food sold as suitable for a vegan diet”.

Now, CTSI is calling on policymakers for a new legal definition of vegan food to be created to ensure the rules are clear. It also wants to ensure that any food manufacturer or restaurant disregarding these rules can be held accountable.

“This would provide clarity for those with allergies, for example to milk or eggs, over whether or not food labelled as vegan is safe to eat,” said the CTSI.

Commenting on the recent report, Chief Executive of CTSI, John Herriman, said: “Our research reveals that many consumers mistakenly believe that when something is described as vegan or plant-based, it doesn’t contain any animal products. However, there is currently nothing in the law that requires this to be true.

Why food allergies should be seen as a business opportunity, not a threat

“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.

“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,” continued Herriman.

Sharing her stance on the labelling of “vegan” food products, Jessica, a Trading Standards Officer, explained: “The rise in demand for foods sold or promoted as ‘vegan’ or ‘plant-based’ has soared in recent years. There has been a rise in complaints and incidents where consumers feel they have been misled by the use of such terms, for numerous reasons.

“There has also been an increase in those with animal-derived allergies choosing foods marked ‘vegan’ thinking they are safe for them to eat, only to suffer an allergic reaction. This shows a real need for a legal definition to give both consumers and businesses the clarity that is needed.”

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