Vegan And Vegetarian Food Labelling In The E.U.
Over the past several years, the vegetarian and vegan food sector (referred to collectively as the veg*n food sector) has grown very rapidly. This has meant that many structures within the food industry have not yet caught up. This study, published in Food Science, examines and makes recommendations for improving one of those structures: veg*n food labeling systems in the European Union (E.U.).
The author first describes three common labeling systems used in the E.U. as follows:
- The European V-Label. This is a system introduced in 1996 by Swissveg in cooperation with the European Vegetarian Union. It includes both vegetarian and vegan labels and is used throughout Europe.
- The Vegetarian Society Approved Symbol. This is a vegetarian-only label distributed by the Vegetarian Society UK. It is very popular in the UK but not in other parts of the world.
- The Vegan Flower of The Vegan Society UK. This is the oldest label given exclusively to vegan products. Similarly, this is popular in the U.K. but not in other parts of the world.
The author predicts that use of the V-Label will continue to grow. This is based on the label’s wide reach and the fact that it includes separate labels for vegetarian and vegan products.
The rest of the paper focuses on legal and practical concerns regarding the potential widespread implementation of veg*n labels in the E.U. Significant points include the following:
- There are currently no legally binding definitions for the terms “vegetarian” and “vegan” at the E.U. level or in member states. This can create problems when labeling a food item as vegetarian. For example, some cultures consider eggs to be vegetarian while others do not. The author calls for the development of legally binding definitions of both terms at the E.U. level. As a potential starting point, the author cites definitions put in place by Germany’s consumer protection ministers.
- Definitions created for these terms should be both precise and pragmatic. They must take into account the final product as well as the use of animal substances as processing aids. This includes, for example, the use of gelatin to clarify fruit juice. The author notes that this regulation is critical in order to accommodate veg*ns who refrain from eating animal products for ethical reasons. Similarly, the author recommends that the presence of accidental traces of nonveg*n substances through contamination of equipment should not limit products from being labeled veg*n. This is because the production of these food items would not involve animal exploitation.
- There are currently no international standardized control systems in place for ensuring that products receiving labels are in fact veg*n. And there are few resources available to external authorities who could be tasked with the maintenance of such systems. But, the major labeling systems discussed above do use extensive controls. These include comprehensive written documentation supplemented by on-site spot checks. The author also notes that laboratory tests to identify the presence of animal products are currently being developed. Such tests may one day offer cheaper and more efficient controls.
The author summarizes by reiterating the need for standardized definitions of the terms “vegan” and “vegetarian.” The author also highlights the benefits of using one standardized food labelling system, preferably the V-Label, throughout the E.U.
Advocates working in Europe are likely already familiar with the V-Label. And those working in other countries that have no veg*n food labeling systems might look to the V-Label as an example. Interestingly, since the paper’s publication, a vegan version of the Vegetarian Society Approved Symbol has also been launched. On the one hand, this may be helpful for consumers; but, on the other hand, this may complicate overall efforts to create a consolidated veg*an labeling system. It may be more beneficial for both consumers and producers if advocates worked together to refine one overall veg*n labeling system.[Note: Author Renato Pichler is President of Swissveg, and coordinates the European “V-Label” across Europe.]